New Zealanders scoop up a combined $1 million in PM's science prizes

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A primary school teacher, a group of researchers, a professor, a lecturer and a 'future scientist' have taken out the Prime Minister's science prizes this year, totalling $1 million in value.

A decades-long study into people in Dunedin took out the top gong.
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The award winners were announced this afternoon at Parliament Building in Wellington by Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith.

The top prize of $500,000 was awarded to a group of University of Otago researchers, led by Professor Richie Poulton, who are behind the 44-year-old Dunedin Study.

The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study is credited with providing the most detailed data on human development ever amassed, through researching the lives of 1000 people born in Dunedin in 1972 and 1973, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister's science prizes reported.

Scientist using microscope

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Some changes that have resulted from the study include introducing safety matting to prevent playground injuries, shortening electric jug cords to reduce the risk of scalding, affecting judicial practices by identifying antisocial behaviour flowing on from childhood and determining the later-life effects of using cannabis as an adolescent.

The MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize, with a value of $200,000, was won by Professor Brendon Bradley from the University of Canterbury.

Professor Bradley, 30, is at the forefront of worldwide research into the effects of ground shaking caused by earthquakes, which is being used to set new building design codes around the world.

For the first time in the prizes history, the Science Teacher Prize has been awarded to a primary school teacher, Dianne Christenson, with a value of $150,000.

Ms Christenson is the curriculum leader for science at Koraunui School in Lower Hutt, where she's involved students in bee keeping, examining materials used at a local marae, as well as work at a botanic garden and clearing rubbish from local streams.

She has also supported a taro patch being established at the school, among many other environmental initiatives.

Dr Rebecca Priestley, a senior lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington and science author, has been awarded the Science Media Communication Prize, with an award of $100,000.

Dr Priestley's commitment to communicating science in a way that helps people to make decisions on societal issues is recognised with the prize.

Her science communication influence began over 20 years ago, and she has written more than 200 science articles and features for the New Zealand Listener since then.

Former Onslow College student Catherine Pot has scooped up the Future Scientist Prize, a $50,000 tertiary scholarship, for tackling a problem that no other New Zealand student did in last year's International Young Physicists' Tournament.

Ms Pot investigated the van der Pauw method in the competition, improving the technique so it can be used in more situations.

The prizes are the country's most valuable and prestigious science awards and were made to highlight the impact of science on New Zealanders' lives, celebrate scientific achievement and encourage young people to continue their science endeavours.

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