Image: Te Pūnaha Matatini Principal Investigator Dianne Sika-Paotonu has won Te Puiaki Whakapā Pūtaiao the Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize.

2 May 2023

Two Te Pūnaha Matatini principal investigators have been recognised in the 2022 Prime Minister’s Science Prizes, announced at an event in Te Whanganui-a-tara Wellington on Monday 1 May 2023.

Associate Professor Dianne Sika-Paotonu won Te Puiaki Whakapā Pūtaiao the Science Communication Prize, and Associate Professor Jonathan Tonkin won Te Puiaki Kaipūtaiao Maea the MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize.

Dianne and Jono both represent the new sort of scientist that Te Pūnaha Matatini trains for the benefit of Aotearoa New Zealand, skilled in working with complexity and communicating the results in a clear, helpful, and timely way.

Dianne received the communication prize for her evidence-based science communication. She is a leading voice during the Covid-19 pandemic, explaining the technical aspects of immunology, vaccines, the SARS-CoV-2 virus and infectious diseases, giving more than 220 broadcast media interviews, and contributing to more than 1500 online and print media stories.

Dianne joined Te Pūnaha Matatini’s community as part of our intake of 34 new principal investigators in March 2023. “We are deeply privileged to have Dianne on board,” says Director Cilla Wehi. “She is an accomplished scientist who works closely with communities. Her work is timely and respectful, and helps communities that are frequently under-served to make sense of challenging data.”

Image: Te Pūnaha Matatini Principal Investigator Jonathan Tonkin has won Te Puiaki Kaipūtaiao Maea the MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize.

Jono received his award for his work to turn ecology into a more predictive science. Ecosystems are notoriously hard to predict because of all the moving parts, and his team seeks to find new ways to overcome the challenges associated with the natural complexity of ecosystems.

“Jono is a longstanding Te Pūnaha Matatini principal investigator and leads one of our core research projects,” says Cilla. “His locally-responsive work applies world-leading methods to develop radically new approaches that will help protect our rivers and lakes for the future.”

As river ecosystems continue to degrade under pressures of increasing human demand and global change, sustaining them is imperative. “It’s fundamentally important to do what we can to mitigate the risks that ecosystems face,” says Jono. “Because naturally functioning ecosystems provide us with clean water for drinking, food, medicine and so on.”

For Jono, this work is personal. He was initially inspired to study ecology through his love of spending time in rivers when growing up.

“I’m thrilled that the mahi of these two excellent researchers has been recognised with these prizes,” says Cilla. “He mihi nui ki a kōrua. Huge congratulations on behalf of the whole Te Pūnaha Matatini community.”

2022 Prime Minister’s Science Prizes – Royal Society Te Apārangi