Research Honours wins “richly deserved” for trio

Three Victoria University of Wellington academics have been recognised in the 2017 New Zealand Research Honours awards, including Victoria's Professor Colin Wilson being awarded the highest honour, the Rutherford Medal.

Presented annually by Royal Society Te Apārangi, the Research Honours celebrate the outstanding achievements and excellence of New Zealand researchers.

World-renowned geologist Professor Colin Wilson from Victoria’s School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences receives the 2017 Rutherford Medal for his research into understanding supervolcanoes and the hazards they pose.

Professor Wilson was commended by the selection panel for his development of advanced analytical techniques that have improved our knowledge of how supervolcanoes behave before and during eruptions.

Professor Wilson was elected a Fellow of Royal Society Te Apārangi in 2001, the American Geophysical Union in 2006 and The Royal Society (London) in 2015. He has worked on many of the world’s supervolcanoes, including Taupō in New Zealand and Long Valley and Yellowstone in the United States. Last month, he was awarded $8.2 million from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to lead a multi-institute research team that will explore how to reduce the uncertainty around future supervolcano unrest and/or eruptions.

The Rutherford Medal, which includes $100,000 prize money, is the highest honour awarded by Royal Society Te Apārangi and acknowledges a lifetime of significant scholarly research and the promotion of this knowledge to the benefit of New Zealand society.

Professor Wilson says he is deeply grateful for the honour and the recognition that the Rutherford Medal brings.

“The work for which I am being recognised owes, however, a great debt to the many outstanding students and talented colleagues with whom I have worked over the years, and to my family for their support. It has been an enormously enjoyable journey of discovery, which I hope will continue for some while to come.”

Professor Peter Tyler from Victoria’s Ferrier Research Institute has been awarded the 2017 MacDiarmid Medal, which recognises outstanding scientific research that demonstrates the potential for application for human benefit.

Along with collaborators at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, Professor Tyler has helped to design and synthesise a raft of potential new drug candidates that target the enzymes of many diseases including cancer, gout, psoriasis, malaria and Alzheimer’s disease.

One of these candidates is an active ingredient behind a new oral drug, Mundesine®, which treats patients with a specific type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In March this year, Japan became the first country to approve Mundesine®, licensed by BioCryst Pharmaceuticals Inc. under an exclusive licence with Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Viclink, Victoria University’s commercialisation office.

The selection panel praised Professor Tyler’s revolutionary drug design technology, and said it would likely lead to several more medical breakthroughs and the saving of many hundreds of lives.

Professor Tyler was elected a Fellow of Royal Society Te Apārangi in 2008 and a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry in 2010.

“I’m very pleased to receive the award,” says Professor Tyler. “I have been privileged to work with outstanding collaborators and fellow chemists at the Ferrier Research Institute to make this happen.”

Emeritus Professor Laurie Bauer from Victoria’s School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies has been awarded the 2017 Humanities Aronui Medal.

He was recognised by the selection panel for his innovative research in descriptive linguistics—in particular, his influential work exploring the way words are constructed. He is considered a leading authority on compound words.

Emeritus Professor Bauer has also undertaken work on the grammar of New Zealand English, and has been involved in the construction of million-word samples of both written and spoken New Zealand English to facilitate research on the way in which language is used in New Zealand. He has also investigated the New Zealand accent, including its history.

He was elected a Fellow of Royal Society Te Apārangi in 2012. He has authored 20 books and was a co-author of The Oxford Reference Guide to English Morphology, which won the Linguistic Society of America’s prestigious Leonard Bloomfield Book Award in 2015.

“I am honoured to be the sixth recipient of the Aronui Medal, and to be placed among others who have done so much for the humanities in New Zealand,” says Emeritus Professor Bauer.

Victoria’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford congratulated the three Victoria recipients on their outstanding efforts.

“We are extremely proud of Professors Wilson and Tyler, and Emeritus Professor Bauer, for their awards. It is richly deserved recognition for their hard work, and reflects the world-leading, impactful and innovative research taking place at Victoria.”

Professor Guilford added that the University was delighted and proud at the announcement that Victoria’s Provost, Professor Wendy Larner, will be the next President of Royal Society Te Apārangi. Professor Larner will take over as President on 1 July 2018, becoming only the second ever female President of the Society’s Council.