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National medals honour Otago researchers’ achievements

Clocktower from the Leith

Thursday 22 November 2012 10:12am

Ewan-Fordyce-and-Alan-MusgraveProfessors Ewan Fordyce and Alan Musgrave

Two leading University of Otago researchers have been recognised for their outstanding contributions by the presentation of prestigious medals at New Zealand's annual Research Honours. 

Professor Ewan Fordyce (Department of Geology) was awarded the Hutton Medal for his seminal contributions in New Zealand vertebrate paleontology, and Professor Alan Musgrave (Department of Philosophy) received the 2012 Humanities Aronui Medal for his enduring and profound influence as a philosopher of science.

The pair were presented with their medals at the Royal Society of New Zealand-hosted Research Honours Dinner in Auckland last night.

The Hutton Medal is awarded annually, in rotation, for earth sciences, plant sciences, and animal sciences, to the researcher who, working within New Zealand, has significantly advanced understanding of its natural environment through work of outstanding scientific or technological merit.

Professor Fordyce's citation notes his seminal contributions, particularly in relation to the occurrence, taxonomy and display of fossil marine mammals such as whales and dolphins and of penguins. The description of his work states that "by demonstrating that the Southern Ocean was a critical location for the evolution of these marine animals, Ewan has placed New Zealand at the forefront of international research in the field".

Professor Fordyce says he is "very thrilled" to receive the award and wished to acknowledge the important role of the University of Otago in fostering his research.

He says being honoured with this particular medal has a special significance as Captain F W Hutton, who was on the Otago staff in the 1870s, was one of the first truly academic scientists in the natural sciences in New Zealand and he always felt him an important role model.

The Humanities Aronui Medal is awarded annually for research or innovative work of outstanding merit in the Humanities. Its inaugural presentation was in 2011, to another leading Otago researcher, Emeritus Professor Jim Flynn.

Professor Musgrave was appointed to Otago as Professor of Philosophy and Head of that Department in 1970, holding the latter position until 2005. His medal citation notes his enduring and profound influence as a philosopher of science whose influence has ranged widely across the Humanities and the Social Sciences.

The description of his work states that since his appointment at age 30, he has published a number of highly acclaimed books and has edited five highly influential and much quoted scholarly volumes.

Professor Musgrave is primarily interested in the nature of scientific knowledge and in the history of science, publishing on Ptolemy, Lavoisier, Darwin, Einstein and others.

He has been a steadfast and influential defender of the theses of scientific rationality and scientific realism against competing schools of thought, such as post-structuralism.

Professor Musgrave says he was amazed to be selected for the Humanities Aronui Medal and couldn't believe he was receiving it as well as the University's 2012 Distinguished Research Medal.

"When you have spent your life doing work it is very nice to learn that people don't think you have been wasting your time."

He was "extremely honoured to be elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in the first place", since his research interest is in the history and philosophy of science. "This is just the icing on the cake really."

University of Otago Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne warmly congratulated the pair on their honours, which she says are richly deserved.

"Professors Fordyce and Musgrave have both made superb, internationally influential contributions to their respective fields over several decades. I am delighted that their considerable achievements are being recognised at a national level."