Top Medal honours for University of Auckland Science researchers

23 November 2016

Close-up head and shoulders image of Emeritus Professor Alastair Scott.
Emeritus Professor Alastair Scott

Internationally renowned researcher and author in human experimental psychology, Emeritus Professor Michael Corballis from the University of Auckland, has been awarded the Rutherford Medal from the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Professor Corballis, from the School of Psychology, is one of four recipients from the University’s Faculty of Science to be named in this year’s NZ Royal Society honours.

The Hector Medal is awarded to Associate Professor Stéphane Coen from the Department of Physics. School of Biological Sciences Professor Wendy Nelson receives the Hutton Medal and Professor Alastair Scott from the Department of Statistics receives the Jones Medal.

Professor Corballis has written seven books. His most recent, The Wandering Mind: What the Brain Does When You’re Not Looking, was nominated for the NZ Royal Society’s Science Book Prize in 2015 and rated a Book of the Week in the Times Higher Education Supplement.

His books have been widely reviewed in international media and described as ‘captivating’ and ‘entertaining’ by publications such as the New York Times and American Scientist.

While his work in furthering our understanding of the human brain, including memory, visual perception and attention, has been widely published in some of the world’s most prestigious academic journals, his focus has also been on communicating the wonders of the human mind to the general public.

Professor Corballis was born in Marton and studied Mathematics before switching to Psychology. He gained his masters degree at the University of Auckland before moving to Canada where he studied for his PhD at McGill University and taught for some years before returning to Auckland.

He says one of the many satisfactions he has had over his long and successful career is the recognition of Psychology as a respected scientific discipline.

“Psychology has very much come of age as a science, which is quite different from how it was when I began my career, so that is something I’m very happy about.”

This year’s Royal Society of NZ Jones Medal is awarded to Emeritus Professor Alastair Scott for a career in statistics spanning more than 50 years. One of New Zealand’s most highly regarded mathematical scientists, Professor Scott is honoured for his path-breaking research in survey sampling and biostatistics and for service to the wider statistical profession in academia, government and society.

Professor Scott is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and in 2006 received the prestigious Waksberg Award from the American Statistical Association and Statistical Society of Canada. His landmark research in survey sampling is widely incorporated in software packages for survey data analysis.

Professor Wendy Nelson from the University of Auckland’s School of Biological Sciences receives the Hutton Medal for significant contributions to understanding diversity, biology and the evolution of marine macroalgae or seaweeds, and for establishing that New Zealand is home to a widely diverse range of unique seaweeds.

She is a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit and has received many awards during her career, including a ZONTA Women Scientist Award and the NZ Marine Sciences Society Lifetime Achievement Award.

She is currently a member of the MBIE Science Board and in 2015 chaired the Royal Society of New Zealand’s panel on National Taxonomic Collections, producing a major review on biosystematics and taxonomic collections.

Associate Professor Stéphane Coen from the University of Auckland’s Department of Physics receives the Hector Medal for outstanding contributions to the understanding, generation and manipulation of temporal cavity solitons, pulses of light which are central to fundamental questions in laser science.

His experiments demonstrate how these pulses of light self-organise, 'talk' to each other, and can be moved as if they were material objects.

Through additional theoretical insights, Associate Professor Coen has also shown that temporal cavity solitons are related to what could become ultra-accurate, ultra-compact optical clocks which are able to slice time into a quintillionth of a second (one billion times smaller than a billionth). Such clocks could eventually replace atomic clocks as the national time standard around the world and be integrated in cell phones for revolutionary sensing applications.  

Dean of Science at the University of Auckland, Professor John Hosking, said the recognition of the quality of work produced at the University meant it had been an outstanding year for the faculty.

“Each Medal winner is a pioneer in their field, someone who has made a very real contribution to furthering our scientific understanding and I offer my warmest congratulations for the recognition that these Medals represent.”


For more information contact:

Anne Beston, Media Relations Adviser, Communications, University of Auckland

Email:, Tel: +64 9 923 3258, Mobile: + 64 (0) 21 970 089