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The Sir John Walsh Research Institute Awards, celebrating excellence in research over the past year by staff and postgraduate students of the University of Otago Faculty of Dentistry, were presented at the end of the 2023 Clinical and Research Excellence Symposium at Tūhura Otago Museum on 20 July.

Winners of SJWRI Awards for 2023

Winners of SJWRI Awards for 2023: Dr Joanne Choi, Dr Zeina Al Naasan, Dr Fiona Firth and Associate Professor Dawn Coates

Sir John Walsh Awards for Research Excellence

These awards acknowledge and celebrate excellence in research over the previous year from our academic staff, assessed on the basis of achievements such as publications, research funding, supervision of postgraduate students, collaborations and conference presentations. Awards are made in two categories: Early and Mid-Career Researcher (up to Senior Lecturer/Senior Research Fellow) and Senior Researcher (Associate Professor and above).

Sir John Walsh Award, Senior Researcher:  Associate Professor Dawn Coates

Associate Professor Coates' research explores the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in tissue growth and remodelling in dental health and disease. She is the leader of the SJWRI 's Dental Engineering and Tissue Regeneration research programme, and is Deputy Associate Dean (Research) for the Faculty of Dentistry.

Sir John Walsh Award, Early/Mid-Career Researcher:  Dr Joanne Choi

Having begun her career as a dental technician before entering academia, Dr Choi's research interests are in developing, testing and analysing new dental restorative materials to improve oral care. She is the leader of our Clinical and Translational Research programme.

Postgraduate Research Supervisor Award

This award is to acknowledge and promote outstanding postgraduate research supervision by our staff. Each year, postgraduate students are invited to nominate outstanding supervisors via an anonymous platform, with the awardee chosen based on the quantity and quality of submissions. Important attributes for assessment include being supportive, available, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, attentive and a good communicator.

Postgraduate Research Supervisor of the Year:  Dr Fiona Firth

Dr Firth is a Senior Lecturer in Orthodontics, with research interests in craniofacial growth and development, and the biology of orthodontic tooth movement. She has a key role in supervising postgraduate students in the Orthodontics discipline, in particular Doctor of Clinical Dentistry ( DClinDent ) students. Student nominations highlighted her supportive and approachable style, the quality of her constructive feedback, her expertise and attention to detail, and how she encourages her students to achieve more and present their work more widely.

Research Publication Awards

These awards recognise excellence in research by acknowledging the research calibre and effort required to produce and publish high quality journal articles in highly-ranked journals in science and dentistry. To be eligible for this year's awards, papers must have been been accepted for publication between 1 January and 31 December 2022. Awards are presented in two categories, an open category and a Postgraduate category.

Research Publication of the Year:  Dr Joanne Choi

Dr Choi's award-winning publication 'Dental high-speed handpiece and ultrasonic scaler aerosol generation levels and the effect of suction and air supply', investigated exposure to aerosol spray generated by high-speed dental handpieces (HSHs) and ultrasonic scalers, to assess the health risk to oral health practitioners from airborne pathogens in the context of Covid-19. This study demonstrated that the aerosols produced by using these devices do present a risk of infection to the operator, supporting advice to use respiratory PPE. High and low volume suction effectively reduce aerosol generation during scaling, while the novel aerosol-reducing ‘no air’ function available on some HSH devices was shown to be highly effective and is recommended for drilling applications.

Postgraduate Research Publication of the Year: Dr Hisham Mohammed and Dr Zeina Al Naasan

This year's Postgraduate Research Publication Awards were split between two worthy winners, recent SJWRI PhD graduate Dr Hisham Mohammed and recent DClinDent graduate (now Lecturer) Dr Zeina Al Naasan.

Hisham's paper, 'Malocclusion severity and smile features: Is there an association?' aimed to investigate the relationship between malocclusion severity and smiling using novel automated smile analysis software. Hisham contributed to conceptualization of the study, participant recruitment, data collection and investigation, data curation, and preparation of the original manuscript.

Zeina's article 'Evaluation of a tailored oral health promotion intervention for Syrian former refugees in New Zealand', presents new knowledge in the field of refugee oral health in New Zealand, and gives a better understanding on how to promote oral health in an approach tailored to the community under investigation. Zeina contributed to the study design, conducting focus groups, clinical examinations, health promotion leaflet design, statistical analysis, data analysis and writing of the manuscript.

Congratulations to each of our award winners, and our sincere thanks to all staff and students who submitted nominations for our Awards this year.

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