The following winners were announced at the annual Science New Zealand Awards, which took place at Parliament on November 8, 2018. 

ESR forensic scientist John Buckleton took out a Lifetime Contribution to Science Award, ESR microbiologist Megan Devane won an Early Career Award and a Team Award went to ESR's SHIVERS project. 

Lifetime Contribution to Science Award

ESR scientist John Buckleton, whose forensic expertise has been called on not only in New Zealand but internationally, including giving evidence in the OJ Simpson case, has been recognised in the Science New Zealand Awards.

Dr Buckleton, who has been at the forefront of forensic science for most of his career, is the recipient an Individual Lifetime Award.

Over that career, which began 34 years ago, he has examined more than 2,000 cases, given evidence about 200 times as well as co-authoring more than 200 significant publications in forensic science, including shoeprints, firearms, DNA, blood grouping, fire debris analysis, glass and paint.

His most well-known work, however, is arguably the development of STRmix™, a software programme that is able to interpret an evidence sample containing multiple sources if DNA.

By using probabilistic modelling of DNA, STRmix™ determines on the evidence how likely it is that the genotype combinations present within a DNA sample will occur, removing the need to make subjective decisions about what genotypes are present in a DNA profile.   

Dr Buckleton is considered a world leader in the interpretation and analysis of forensic evidence.

His case work experience extends across the UK, USA, Australia, the Netherlands and New Zealand, and his international research collaborations span statistics, forensic biology and software development.

He has been recognised for his career excellence in numerous awards and honours, including Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, the 1993 UK Government Senior Fellowship awards, and the 2013 John Harper Phillips aware of the Australia New Zealand Policing Authority Advisory Agency, which recognises outstanding contributions in forensic science in Australasian.

Dr Buckleton is currently out of the country, promoting his science and STRmix™ to the international justice community.

 Early Career Researcher Award

The state of the country’s waterways is an ongoing concern for many New Zealanders.

For ESR scientist Megan Devane, water quality is what motivates her to come to work.

Dr Devane who is a microbiologist and the recipient of the Early Career Researcher Award in this year’s Science New Zealand Awards, often works with works with local councils to help them meet their obligations under the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

As part of that, she’s been at the cutting edge of developing microbial and chemical tools for evaluation of water quality, and in particular the identification of the sources of faecal contamination in waterways and the environmental transmission routes of infectious disease.

During the Christchurch earthquakes, Dr Devane was part of the ESR team that investigated the fate and transport of faecal contamination when raw sewage was discharged in the Avon (Ōtākaro) River after damage to the sewerage system.

She has also played a leadership role in the area of naturalised Escherichia.coli; developing and instigatingapproaches for investigating naturalised sources of E.coli and methods for distinguishing these environmental E.coli from faecal E.coli.

As part of her work, Dr Devane has developed strong collaborations with AgResearch and the University of Canterbury CAREX research group which investigate low cost farm-scale mitigations for reducing the impact of nutrient runoff and faecal contamination.

Dr Devane says she is thrilled to have her contributions to science in Aotearoa recognised by this award.

“I’m also well aware that my research is underpinned by a fantastic team of scientists and technicians at ESR who are dedicated to improving water quality.”

She hopes the team’s research will have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of the wai and tangata whenua of Aotearoa.

Team Award

The ESR-led international SHIVERS project, which has contributed a raft of new insights into influenza and vaccine effectiveness, has won the team award in this year’s Science New Zealand Awards, announced last night.

The Southern Hemisphere Influenza and Vaccine Effectiveness Research and Surveillance project resulted from a successful NZ$9 million application to the US department of Health and Human Services through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011 for a funding period of six years.

ESR virologist, Sue Huang, is the project’s lead investigator, with more than 30 current and former ESR scientists and other staff also part of the team.

During 2012-2017, this multi-agency and multi-disciplinary collaboration assembled a world-class team of public health experts, laboratory scientists, clinicians and academics, and established a novel and modern perspective, population-base surveillance for acute respiratory illness in hospital and communities in New Zealand.

SHIVERS has contributed new insights into the burden of influenza, vaccine effectiveness, influenza immunology respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and other respiratory viruses, especially among children and older adults.

The study has resulted in more than 17 peer-reviewed publications, including high profile journals such as Lancet and Journal of Infectious Diseases.

SHIVERS has already received a number of awards and was selected by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment as one of five case studies of science impact in New Zealand in 2016 in terms of its beneficial changes in economic, health social or cultural outcomes.

Dr Huang says the award is a confirmation of the excellent collaboration at the national and international level.

“It would be impossible to achieve these important and critical study outcomes without our devoted, committed, world-class, high-calibre key collaborators from other organisations - Auckland District Health Board, Counties Manukau District Health Board, the University of Auckland, the University of Otago, WHO Collaborating Centre at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis USA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta USA”.

“I also feel extremely grateful to all our study participants for their whole-hearted support over the last six years.

“I would like to use the Chinese phrase “天时地利人和”. The literal translation is it needs three conditions: favourable climatic, geographic and human conditions. The common English translation is: right time, right place and right people.”  

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Science Awards 2018

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Gael Woods
  • Sciences