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University of Otago academic Dr Carla Meledandri has won the 2017 Prime Minister's MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize, recognising her innovative nanotechnology research.
Early applications of Dr Meledandri's science include using silver nanoparticles to treat and prevent dental disease, and finding ways to store and use clean energy.
Dr Meledandri was ''very humbled'' by the ''amazing'' national award, which provided ''great recognition'', for her and fellow researchers.
''It's a real highlight in my career.''
The associated funding would ''really help to push some new ideas forward.''
It was ''very rewarding'' to undertake work which could help improve dental health, through a planned range of ''breakthrough products'' to fight tooth decay and infection, using silver nanoparticle research undertaken at her laboratory.
This initiative is being undertaken through a start-up company, Silventum Ltd, that she has co-founded, and a technology licensing deal with a multinational dental company.
Tooth decay was one of the ''most prevalent chronic diseases'' in the world and the products being created offered a new solution. They could also make dental care more affordable, through reliable treatments that did not require ''repeated trips to the dentist''.
One of several approaches being considered involved developing a protective silver nanoparticle liquid that could be placed in a tooth before the dental filling was added.
The new approach was also ''particularly exciting'' because of the growing problems with resistance to antibiotics, which were the usual treatment for bacterial infections.
The Otago approach used ''a completely different mechanism'' that did not allow bacteria to become resistant.
An earlier meeting with Dr Don Schwass, of the university's Faculty of Dentistry, had led to a long time partnership which had been pivotal to the success of the dental technologies they had developed, she said.
Other Prime Minister prize winners.- Science, $500,000: Plant & Food Research, team entry, led by Dr Bruce Campbell; science teacher, $150,000: Sarah Johns, Nelson College for Girls; science media communication, $100,000: Damian Christie, SciFilms; future scientist, $50,000: Jonathan Chan, Auckland Boys' Grammar School.