University of Otago geologist Prof Ewan Fordyce and philosopher Prof Alan Musgrave were yesterday presented with national awards for research excellence at a Royal Society event in Auckland.
The Hutton Medal for earth sciences was awarded to Prof Fordyce for "his seminal contributions in New Zealand vertebrate palaeontology, particularly for whales, dolphins and penguins".
"By demonstrating that the Southern Ocean was a critical location for the evolution of these marine animals, Prof Fordyce has placed New Zealand at the forefront of international research in the field," the Royal Society of New Zealand citation noted.
Prof Fordyce and his colleagues have made a series of trailblazing discoveries of ancient marine mammals in North Otago and South Canterbury, highlighting the area's status as an international hot spot for ancient marine mammal biodiversity.
And he has helped establish the Vanished World Centre at Duntroon, and an associated Vanished World Heritage Trail in the Waitaki Valley.
Prof Fordyce said gaining the medal was "deeply satisfying".
The Humanities Aronui Medal was awarded to Prof Musgrave FRSNZ, for his "enduring and profound influence as a philosopher of science whose influence has ranged widely across the humanities and social sciences".
He was primarily interested in the nature of scientific knowledge and the history of science, having published several highly acclaimed books and edited five highly influential and much-quoted scholarly volumes.
Prof Musgrave had been "struck dumb" after being awarded Otago University's highest research honour, the Distinguished Research Medal, in July. He had also been surprised about receiving the humanities award but said it was "very good to get this kind of recognition".
Otago University vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne yesterday congratulated both men, who had made "superb, internationally influential contributions to their respective fields over several decades".
The country's highest science and technology honour, the Rutherford Medal, was awarded to Auckland University chemist Prof Margaret Brimble for her world-leading contributions to the synthesis of bioactive natural products. She is the second woman to be awarded the Rutherford Medal in its 21-year history, after Prof Christine Winterbourn, of Otago University's Christchurch campus, won it last year.
Prof Brimble was also awarded the MacDiarmid and the Hector medals.
• Other awards: Pickering Medal, Prof David Williams; Mason Durie Medal, Prof Russell Gray; Sir Charles Hercus Medal, Prof John Fraser; Pou Aronui Award, Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, all Auckland University; Thomson Medal, Dr Richard Furneaux, Industrial Research Ltd; Callaghan Medal, Prof Shaun Hendy, IRL, Victoria University of Wellington; Jones Medal, Prof Robert Goldblatt, Victoria University of Wellington; the Dame Joan Metge Medal, Prof Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Waikato University, and Prof Janet Holmes, Victoria University of Wellington; Cooper Medal, Dr Mark Poletti, IRL.