Any scientists worthy of a Welly?

Applications for the Wellys, or the Wellingtonian of the Year award, an annual competition run by the Dominion Post, close on Sunday so time is running out to nominate someone you think has done the region a lot of good in the past year.

Past overall winners have included Peter Jackson, Jermaine Clement and Bret McKenzie and last year, veteran dancer and actor Sir John Trimmer.

Back in 2006, Victoria University climate scientist Professor Peter Barrett won the top honour for working “assiduously in warning national and international communities of the dangers inherent in the rapid increase in greenhouse gases and in modeling/predicting the likely unpleasant outcome.”

According to this list of past winners, Dr Barrett is the only scientist to take out the prize in its 20 year history. The Wellys however, do feature a science and technology section. So are there any high flying scientists or tech visionaries in the Wellington area worthy of the prize this year? Here are some potential winners:

In science:

Professor Paul Callaghan – Physicist at Victoria, founder of the MacDiarmid Institute, author of From Wool to Weta, gifted science communicator and has battled cancer this year. He may have won the sci-tech category before, but if there’s a time to reward this top scientist for his work for the university, the city and the country with the supreme Welly, it is now.

Dr Shaun Coffey – chief executive of Crown research institute Industrial Research, formerly of Australia’s CSIRO. Since taking over troubled IRL in 2006 he has stabilised the business and made it modestly profitable. More importantly, he’s shown a determination to give the research institution a strong identity with the What’s Your Problem New Zealand? competition which put up $1 million worth of scientists’ time and resources to the most innovative applicant looking to pursue an R&D project. Paint maker Resene won.

Gareth Morgan – A bit of a wildcard and not appropriate for the sci-tech category itself, but potentially in the running for the top Welly for his collaborative approach to researching the book on climate change Poles Apart, which saw him team up with a group of respected Wellington climate scientists to methodically go through the evidence on anthropogenic climate change. He also donated money to Victoria University for climate science research and is a major philanthropist through the Morgan Family Charitable Foundation. Sure, the book didn’t really say anything new, but Morgan packed town halls the length of the country when he went out on the road to explain how he changed from climate change skeptic to true blue “alarmist”.

John Watt – The MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year is a contender for the scitech category after winning recognition for his research carried out at Victoria. Watt, who is completing his PhD, is using palladium particles to remove toxic gases, including carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide, from dirty exhaust fumes emitted by vehicles. Who knows where the technology will go, but it is inspiring stuff.

In technology

Mario Wynands – The managing director and co-founder of Sidhe Interactive, Wynands has built a thriving video game development house in Wellington replicating the “develop locally, sell internationally” model Weta is so good at. Sidhe picked up additional TechNZ funding this year to develop a “cross-platform development technology” for video game consoles and really drove into the video game download market with the successful release of Shatter, which is available on the Playstation Network.

Rod Drury – Again, he may have been rewarded in this category before. The entrepreneur and founder of listed software company Xero certainly deserves it. In 2007, he was the ‘Absolutely Creatively Wellington Ambassador’ and has won a string of other awards. It’s been a good year for Drury with Xero experiencing strong growth internationally, raising more capital, including from the founder of MYOB, one of Xero’s rivals. It that wasn’t a confidence boost for Xero and its shareholders, nothing was. It was Drury’s campaigning for an open access fibre network for the country that put the issue on the agenda before National concocted its $1.5 billion plan to fibre the country so he dserves some credit for getting the ball rolling there. Only trouble is, he largely runs the Xero empire from the Hawkes Bay these days so how much of Wellingtonian is he anymore?

Click here to put in your nomination.

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