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2020 Divisional Awards

About the awards

2020 Awards imageThe Division of Sciences held its 2020 Awards celebration on Tuesday 24 November with a suite of awards acknowledging the excellent work done in many different areas of university life and work: research, teaching, community engagement, and professional staff support.

Congratulations to all nominees for 2020, and in particular, the recipients of each award.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne presented Award recipients with the striking 2020 trophy. The design represents Our people. Our place., and was a collaborative effort designed and led by Cara Duffy (Marketing Adviser).

The trophy is a ‘glass mountain’ inside a glass vessel (made by glassblower Anne Ryan), with water sitting on the base of the vessel underneath the ‘mountain’. A ‘waka’ (crafted by Steven Abernethy, Property Services) fits around the outside of the vessel giving the impression it is floating on top of the water element made up of aqua-marine (copper sulphate) and glacial silicone oil layered solutions (developed by Dave McMorran, Chemistry).

Mai i Whaka heke rau ki Kawarau
“from the Mountains to the Sea” (or literally “from St Clair to the Remarkables”)

Winners group photo

2020 Divisional Awards Group Photo
Left to right: Professor Craig Rodger (on behalf of Luke Reynolds), Dr Jörg Hennig, Dr Christopher Stevens, Professor Jörg Frauendiener, Dr Florian Beyer, Professor Richard Barker, Dr Chanel Phillips, Professor Steve Dawson, Dr Harald Schwefel, Professor Harlene Hayne, Professor Martin Sellbom, Dr Bridie Allan, Dr Mei Peng, Dr David McMorran and Dr Doug Mackie.

Winners and award citations

Outstanding Researcher

Professor Martin Sellbom

Department of Psychology

Martin is a world-leading scholar in the areas of personality disorders and clinical personality assessment.

He was a primary investigator on two externally funded projects on the assessment and diagnosis of personality disorders, and has recently been awarded a new Marsden grant to study neural markers of psychopathic personality disorder in the community. These projects, along with his other work on mental health diagnosis and personality assessment, have resulted in over 50 peer reviewed publications since September 2018, including his comprehensive and well-reviewed edited book, the Cambridge Handbook of Clinical Assessment and Diagnosis.

His Personality, Psychopathology, and Measurement laboratory supports many postgraduate students, and fosters a wealth of important international collaborations.

Outstanding Early-Career Researcher

Dr Mei Peng

Department of Food Science

Mei uses cognitive psychology and neuropsychology approaches to study human senses and their link to human health and eating behaviour. Mei led the establishment of a Sensory Neuroscience Laboratory at Otago, where she has undertaken a number of high-profile multidisciplinary studies. Her research interests range from management of obesity, to the cognitive-neuropsychology of eating behaviour, and the sensory impacts of diverse conditions, including depression, obesity and even COVID infection. Mei has made major contributions to developing research capabilities in human olfactory research, placing Otago at the forefront of international sensory research.

Outstanding Research Group

Gravity Research Group

Department of Mathematics and Statistics


This group is awarded for its outstanding contributions to the understanding and interpretation of solutions of Einstein's equations of General Relativity. Their work has shed important new light on the asymptotic structure of space-times, the structure of the early universe evolving from the Big Bang, and the properties of multi black hole space-times.

In the time-frame under consideration the group has published a total of 19 papers, almost all of them in highly ranked mathematics and physics journals. The focus of the research is on highly accurate numerical and mathematically rigorous analytic methods and the group has a high international prestige in this area. The group is part of a consortium to prepare the science and technology for a planned European Space Agency mission for the first space-based detection and accurate measurement of gravitational waves.

Best Research Paper – Academic Staff

Dr Harald Schwefel

Department of Physics

Resonant electro-optic frequency comb
This award recognises a high profile publication of Harald’s Resonant Optics experimental group.

Published in the journal Nature, the paper reports on a new type of optical frequency comb with the potential to revolutionise frequency metrology and enable the next generation of high-speed internet using optical fibres.

This work has established Otago as a leading institution in this important area of cutting-edge photonics research.

Best Research Paper – Postgraduate Student

Luke Reynolds

Department of Physics

Direct Measurements of Collisional Dynamics in cold Atom Triads
Luke’s paper was published in the highly esteemed dedicated physics journal Physical Review Letters earlier this year.

Luke and his team developed a unique capability to build atomic triads (groups of exactly three atoms) in an optical tweezer, an astounding achievement in itself. They then used this capability to study individual events of a fundamental molecule formation process requiring the presence of three atoms.

The details revealed by this ingenious approach showed that the present understanding of it is inadequate. Even in this simplest possible scenario, nature can surprise us. The project was driven by Luke's technical skills and meticulous and rigorous scientific approach.

Outstanding Community Engagement

Dr David McMorran

Department of Chemistry

Dave has a deep love of science and a desire to explain it. He teaches and researches enthusiastically in approachable and understandable ways. He is involved in the NZ International Science Festival and is now a Board member.

Dave has developed a variety of new ways to engage with the community, including local and national science-based competition for schools, and a decade-long radio show that brings to the world the research of the division and the students who do it.

Outstanding Teacher

Professor Steve Dawson

Department of Marine Science

Steve has had a 30-year career of teaching, research and supervision at Otago. He has taught at all levels, developed several new papers, and mentored new teachers. His teaching is strongly research-informed, topical, relevant and engaging. He has a reputation for seeking robustness and quality. Many of his third-year students continue on to success in postgraduate study.

As COVID-19 forced us into lockdown, Steve worked exceptionally hard to maintain regular contact with his students, many of whom had been recalled home overseas, and to continue delivery of the exceptional teaching he is known for. That his teaching assessments continue to be glowing provides evidence of outstanding success.

Outstanding Early Career Teacher

Dr Bridie Allan

Department of Marine Science

Bridie has reinvigorated key papers in the Oceanography and Aquaculture and Fisheries programme and has built an engaged lab group. Central to her success is her approachability and enthusiasm, and she directly connects her research around climate change and behaviour to teaching.

Bridie consistently receives great teaching reviews, really takes into consideration comments made by students, and alters paper material in response to strengthen learning outcomes.

Innovation in Māori or Pasifika Course Content

Dr Chanel Phillips

School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences

Chanel is an outstanding early career kaupapa Māori teacher. She has developed new kaupapa Māori curriculum in Te Koronga at the School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences. She is a world leader in her research field and brings this to light in her teaching of te taiao (environment), connections to hauora (wellbeing) and focus on water safety through the lens of whakapapa, mātauranga and tikanga.

Students get to explore Māori world view through critical analysis of relationships between the environment and wellbeing through tangata, whenua, wai, waka and moana. One of her strengths is her ability to describe metaphor and complex concepts in everyday language and from a te ao Māori perspective. She makes her class feel culturally safe for both Māori and non-Māori students.

Outstanding Professional Staff

Dr Doug Mackie

Department of Marine Science

Doug has held the position of laboratory manager of Portobello Marine Laboratory since 2014. He has led the redevelopment of the innovative teaching and research facility that has elevated marine science teaching, research and outreach at Otago to a level of global excellence. He brings his exceptional marine chemistry expertise to his informal role as a mentor and supervisor to postgraduate students, providing valuable knowledge and support.

Doug also provides outstanding support to staff on all aspects of teaching and research at the laboratory from permits and health & safety to managing long-term data series.

Doug Mackie heads an excellent team of staff, where he leads by example to always enthusiastically support the people visiting and working at Portobello Marine Laboratory.

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Special Award for Distinguished Service

Professor Harlene Hayne

Harlene Haynes presentation 2021 with Richard Barker PVC Sciences
Professor Richard Barker, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Sciences) presents the Special Award for Distinguished Service to Professor Harlene Hayne.

I want to acknowledge Professor Harlene Hayne’s outstanding contribution to the Division of Sciences at Otago over the past 30 years. I will miss her as both as a colleague and in her most recent role as our Vice-Chancellor. Her leadership of the University has left us in really good shape as we enter our next 150 years.

In recognition of her contributions to the Division, I was pleased to be able to present the Division of Sciences Special Award for Distinguished Service to Harlene at her farewell on 9 March 2021. Harlene presented the 2020 Divisional Awards for us in November and had remarked how striking they were, so it was a pleasure to be able to gift her with one to remember us by. As I said in the presentation, once a member of the Division of Sciences, always a member of the Division of Sciences.

Ngā mihi nui,
Professor Richard Barker, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Sciences)

2018 Division of Sciences Excellence awards 

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