Award for academic who drives public understanding of science

11 October 2017
Image of Professor Peter Shepherd
Professor Peter Shepherd

Professor Peter Shepherd has been awarded the Callaghan Medal by Royal Society Te Apārangi for pioneering activities to increase the understanding of science by the New Zealand public.

The Callaghan Medal is awarded every year for an outstanding contribution to science communication and raising public awareness of the value of science to human progress.

Professor Shepherd is a professor of Cell Signalling at the University fo Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences and Deputy Director of the Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery at the University of Auckland.

After realising how little the public understood about his own field, how obesity and type-2 diabetes develop, he set out to improve public understanding about science.

One of his initiatives has been to deliver high quality scientific information to secondary schools. Professor Shepherd initiated and developed a programme of free professional development days for secondary school biology teachers throughout New Zealand, now in its fifth year.

He has co-authored two popular secondary school text books, hosting teachers in his laboratory and arranging an annual scholarship scheme for biology teachers to attend New Zealand’s largest scientific research conference, the Queenstown Research Week, which he leads.

"In our rush to find better ways to communicate science we have sometimes undervalued the most obvious way of doing this, which is through schools.

“Continual upskilling and empowering of our science teachers and developing new school-based science programmes is something we haven’t done well in the past but is a really cost effective way of getting more members of our communities to understand and buy in to the real benefits science offers our society.”

Dean of Medical and Health Sciences, Professor John Fraser, says the award is great news for Professor Shepherd and the faculty.

“He has worked tirelessly to assist schools and teachers engage in and enjoy the field of science. His work has probably steered many school children into science which will be of great benefit to themselves and the future of the scientific community.”

Professor Shepherd also recently developed a health research partnership between the Moko Foundation, a Kaitaia-based organisation led by Dr Lance O’Sullivan, and the Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery, one of New Zealand’s national centres of research excellence. The partnership will establish a jointly managed research unit in Kaitaia to be called Waharoa ki te Toi (The Gateway).


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