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Clocktower clockThursday 28 November 2013 4:32pm

Three University of Otago researchers' outstanding achievements were recognised through the bestowing of prestigious national medals at last night's 2013 Research Honours Dinner.

Professor Michael Baker was presented with the Health Research Council's (HRC) Liley Medal, while Professors Richard Blaikie and Jim McQuillan received the Royal Society of New Zealand's Hector Medal and the TK Sidey Medal, respectively.

Professor Michael Baker

The Liley Medal is presented annually to recognise an individual whose recent research has produced a significant breakthrough within the health and medical fields. Professor Baker (Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington) was honoured for his landmark 2012 study appearing in The Lancet, which showed a dramatic rise in the incidence of serious infectious diseases and rising inequalities across populations in New Zealand.

HRC's Chief Executive, Dr Robin Olds described the findings, which emerged from analysis of 5 million overnight hospital admissions, as having “enormous implications for health and social policy in New Zealand, and will likely stimulate research and action in other countries where ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities may predispose vulnerable populations to poor health outcomes.”

Professor Richard Blaikie

Professor Richard Blaikie (Professor of Physics and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Enterprise)) was presented with the 2013 Hector Medal for the advancement of physical sciences in recognition of his fundamental and wide-ranging contributions to the field of nano-optics.

Professor Blaikie joined Otago in 2011, taking on demanding senior administration duties whilst continuing to advance his pioneering research programme. He has shown that light can be manipulated at scales much smaller than its wavelength and provided a world-first experimental demonstration of a controversial superlens system using sub-wavelength techniques. His techniques use thin layers of silver illuminated with UV light to produce 'photographs' of objects smaller than the wavelength.

This research is helping to pave the way towards the 'holy grail' of achieving unlimited resolution in light microscopy, in which molecules within cells might be viewed in real-time.

The T.K. Sidey Medal for outstanding scientific research in the field of electromagnetic radiation was awarded to Professor Jim McQuillan (Chemistry). He was part of a research partnership that created a new chemical analytical technique called surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) and has developed infrared spectroscopy to examine wet metal oxide nanoparticles.

Professor Jim McQuillan

Since its 1973 discovery, SERS has revolutionised areas as diverse as crime-scene forensic analysis, drug detection, and establishing the origins of works of art. More recently, Professor McQuillan pioneered the use of thin metal oxide particle films deposited on internal reflection prisms to carry out infrared spectroscopic studies of surface chemical reactions. These methods have allowed a better understanding of chemical reactions in diverse practical situations, such as in titanium dioxide-based solar cells and the adhesion of mussel larvae to surfaces.

University Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne warmly congratulated Otago's medal recipients and said that their honours are richly deserved.

“All three have made enormous contributions at the leading edge of their respective fields, creating vital knowledge that will underpin important advances in health, technology and economic development,” says Professor Hayne.

For more information, contact:

Professor Michael Baker
Department of Public Health
University of Otago, Wellington
Tel 64 4 918 6802

Professor Richard Blaikie
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise)
Professor in Physics
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 8513

Professor Jim McQuillan
Department of Chemistry
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 7928

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