Scion scientists have been celebrated in the annual Science New Zealand awards for work to help cut industrial CO2 emissions, reduce microplastics in the environment, and to connect Māori communities with research and science.
Among them is Dr Bing Song.
Song joined Scion in 2019. The following year he was separated from his wife Zhiyan Li by Covid-19 border restrictions. Seeing the adversity as an opportunity he threw himself into his work. The couple would video call each other daily – Song would read research papers in Rotorua and his wife would study English in Hong Kong.
Since joining Scion, he has been a primary author on seven papers and co-authored another five. Of the 35 published papers in his career, 31 have been in Q1 journals – the highest-ranking in a particular field.
Now his work and commitment have been recognised at the annual Science New Zealand awards held at Parliament on December 6. The awards celebrate staff at New Zealand’s seven Crown research institutes, plus Callaghan Innovation, in three categories: Early Career Researcher, Lifetime Achievement and Team.
Song, who won an Early Career Researcher Award, currently leads Scion’s Solid Biofuel Project mentoring colleagues, leading and supporting funding bids, and reviewing papers for journals in his field. He is passionate about the work, which could replace coal and gas in New Zealand industry helping reduce the nearly five million tonnes of CO2 emitted by industry every year.
“To me science is an amazing journey from identifying research challenges to finally achieving the right solutions,” he says. “Science is an essential part of my daily life.”
Song has a growing international collaboration network and is currently on a six-month, Scion-funded sabbatical at the University of New South Wales. The sabbatical separates him from his now-Rotorua-based wife again, and their 10-month-old daughter.
Kirk Torr, Scion’s Chemistry and Physics research group leader, says Song “stretched the boundaries” in his field.
The other Scion recipients were Scion’s Microplastics Team, given a Team Award for research into marine-based microplastics and Dr Tanira Kingi who was given an Individual/Lifetime Achievement Award for his more than 30-year career.
Kingi’s work has covered management, consultancy, and academic positions across the primary sectors.
Kingi (Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Awa,Te Arawa) is a Climate Change Commissioner, an advisor to the Ministries for the Environment and Primary Industries and an independent research scientist.
In his time at Scion, he worked collaboratively with teams across the organisation providing mentorship, and strategic advice while leading programmes in climate mitigation and land use change scenario modelling. In 2021 he was made an emeritus scientist at Scion.
Former general manager of Te Ao Māori and Science Services, Hemi Rolleston, says Kingi has a unique skillset spanning both science and mātauranga Māori.
“Tanira is unique in that he is very proficient in the world of science but he also upholds a lot of mana in the world of mātauranga Māori and Te Ao Māori and when those two come together that’s when the magic happens.”
Interim Te Ao Māori general manager Shontelle Bishara says Kingi has made a “huge contribution,” both as a mentor and role model for emerging Māori researchers and scientists and through work connecting Māori communities and landowners with research and science.
The microplastics team has been working to determine how much microplastic is in our environment, its source and environmental consequences.
Their work has contributed to a wide range of projects including fundamental research, community engagement and outreach, and commercial projects which include determining the amount of microplastic in our food.
Their research insights have been shared with regional councils and environmental groups allowing them to understand the extent of microplastic pollution and adjust plastic clean-up plans accordingly. They also contributed to the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) led multi-party Endeavour Fund project Aotearoa Impacts and Mitigation of Microplastics.
Polymer Chemistry scientist Dr Jamie Bridson says the Scion team, led by Sustainable Materials team lead Dr Kate Parker, brought together people from a wide range of disciplines.
“We’ve leveraged methods from material science and from food and pharmaceutical packaging industries to try and bring new methodologies and advance this field.
“A key finding of this work was the diversity and complexity of microplastics pollution.” The team’s work is essential to helping reduce the harm caused to New Zealand’s environment caused by waste plastic.”
Science New Zealand Chief Executive Anthony Scott says the Awards “celebrate the people creating and applying ideas that are useful, usable and used in Aotearoa New Zealand.”
“The event celebrates excellence in science, its application to real world issues, and the partnerships we have with clients and collaborators in many industries and sectors that make things happen,” Scott says.
He says the members of Science NZ “deliver results that tangibly improve the prosperity, sustainability and wellbeing of New Zealand”.
For the full list of winners from New Zealand’s CRIs see sciencenewzealand.org.