Dame Anne Salmond has become the first social scientist to win the country's highest science and technology honour.
The Auckland University anthropologist was last night awarded the Rutherford Medal at the Royal Society of New Zealand's annual research honours dinner in Dunedin.
The award recognised her work on Maori social structures and interactions with the European world.
Considered our best known social scientist, Dame Anne has a reputation for imaginative anthropological recreations that have earned her accolades of membership with overseas scientific associations.
In New Zealand, the impact of her work had been "huge" and led to a greater understanding of cultural engagement, the society said.
Dame Anne told the Herald from Germany that it was a "tremendous honour" to be the first social scientist to be awarded the medal, and a "generous tribute to the contributions made by our disciplines to life in New Zealand and the Pacific".
It capped off what she described as a "breathtaking" year, beginning with her being named the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year.
More recently, she had fronted the media spotlight to speak out against the Government's GCSB Bill, arguing it threatened the rights of Kiwis.
The Prime Minister's chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, said the honour was a recognition of not just Dame Anne's work, but the growing importance of social sciences in New Zealand.
"I've always thought that social science should be seen alongside all other forms of science as an important body of knowledge, and Anne has certainly made an enormous contribution to social and cultural anthropology," he said.
Other scientists honoured
• Emeritus Professor Sir Harold Marshall (formerly University of Auckland) awarded the Pickering Medal for achievement in technology, for his research-based acoustical designs used in music performance spaces.
• Dr Peter Lee (University of Auckland) awarded the Thomson Medal for the management and application of research, for his contribution to commercialisation of scientific research.
• Dr Siouxsie Wiles (University of Auckland) awarded the Callaghan Medal for outstanding contribution to science communication for her contribution to raising public awareness of the value of medical science.
• Professor Neil Broom (University of Auckland) awarded the MacDiarmid Medal for research combining engineering and biological concepts leading to a better understanding of human heart valves and joint and spinal tissues.
• Professor Richard Blaikie (Otago University) awarded the Hector Medal for the advancement of physical sciences, for his contributions to the field of nano-optics.
• Professor Dave Kelly (University of Canterbury) awarded the Hutton Medal for plant science, for further developing knowledge of native flora in New Zealand and defining the interactions between plants and animals.
• Professor John Pratt (Victoria University) awarded the Mason Durie Medal for advancing the field of the sociology of punishment and comparative penology.
• Professor Andrew Buchanan (University of Canterbury) awarded the RJ Scott Medal for leading an international resurgence in the use of timber for large-scale, earthquake-resistant buildings.
• Professor Jim McQuillan (Otago University) awarded the TK Sidey Medal for outstanding scientific research in the field of electromagnetic radiation.
• Professor Michael Baker (Otago University) awarded the Liley Medal by the Health Research Council of New Zealand for his outstanding contribution to the health and medical sciences in the field of public health.