COVID science celebrated

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Government scientists commemorated their 2020 award winners at the annual Science New Zealand awards celebration at Parliament last week.

ESR’s (Environmental Science & Research) COVID-19 team received the Supreme Award for their work providing the information and tools to enable New Zealand to make critical decisions on how to eliminate and control the spread of the virus.

In an extraordinary year of challenge and uncertainty, Early Career Research, Individual or Lifetime Achievement, and Team science from the Crown Research Institutes and Callaghan Innovation were recognised.

NIWA Chief Executive John Morgan, chair of Science New Zealand, addressed the 120 guests at the ceremony in Parliament’s Grand Hall to honour the winners. 

Mr Morgan acknowledged the challenges faced by everyone this year and said that Science New Zealand was committed to providing science solutions – ensuring that knowledge was applied to benefit society.

“Science has never been more valued than it is right now – by the public and by decision makers,” he said.

That was reflected by a poll of 25,000 scientists around the world, who ranked New Zealand legislators as the best at using scientific advice to inform their COVID-19 strategy.

That endorsement confirmed what researchers already knew: “Our science was trusted and without agenda. It clarified options and proposed solutions. It was future focused and built on decades of experience and knowledge.

However, Mr Morgan said the task of recovery, reset and rebuild of New Zealand’s national wealth and wellbeing was enormous. He warned against recreating what had been there before, saying New Zealand’s future would be greatly enhanced by innovation.

“Look at what we can bring – New Zealand science in society. Science for a purpose, excellence, curiosity, discovery, application, integrity, credibility and impact.”

No other OCED government-owned research entities attract as much externally funded research as New Zealand’s Crown Research Institutes (CRIs).

“Customers come to us because they have confidence that the right research will be designed, developed and delivered,” Mr Morgan said. 

CRIs are involved in all the large overarching concerns and opportunities for the country – such as climate change, water management, primary sector resilience and new technologies changing the face of work and the economy.

Mr Morgan said the organisation had been working on maximising the strengths of strong sector connectivity. One result of this approach is the imminent National Environmental Data Centre (Te Pokapuu raraunga Taio o Aotearoa), which provides a single portal to the many databases established by CRIs.

“More use means more value creation. It also enables greater opportunity for collaboration.”

He believed there were three strategic goals that would guide the CRIs:

  • a cross-company science strategy to capitalise on their unique strengths,
  • the need to better apply knowledge with existing sectors and helping create new ones,
  • the need to work better in partnership with government, industry, sectors and Māori.

“Let us start with challenging aspirations, and then back them up with action and impact.”

 The complete speech can be found here: Chair’s Address - Science New Zealand Awards [PDF 115.4 KB]

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