Simon Plumb is a journalist for the Herald on Sunday

Sir Peter's top award won by Sir Peter

Sir Peter Gluckman says he'd like to see New Zealand having mature conversations about big issues. Photo / Dean Purcell
Sir Peter Gluckman says he'd like to see New Zealand having mature conversations about big issues. Photo / Dean Purcell

Science pioneer Sir Peter Gluckman has landed the top honour at this year's Sir Peter Blake leadership awards.

Presented with the prestigious Blake Medal at a black-tie function last night, Sir Peter said he was shocked by the accolade.

"I'm very surprised. I've been fortunate to have many awards for many things in my life, but this one is quite special," Sir Peter told the Weekend Herald. "There's nothing nicer than being recognised by your peers or by people you highly respect."

The inaugural chief science adviser to the Prime Minister, Sir Peter is considered a driving force in bringing sound scientific advice to policymakers both at home and overseas.

Forty years of world-class research has previously seen him named New Zealander of the Year, awarded the Rutherford Medal - the highest award instituted by the Royal Society of New Zealand - and also made a Member of the Order of New Zealand, the highest national honour.

Research and pediatrics have been Sir Peter's passion in a decorated career during which he has published more than 600 papers and reports cited more than 30,000 times in scientific literature.

He has founded international scientific societies and consulted at the highest levels for global organisations like the World Health Organisation.

"Leadership means different things to different people and to have science, and my contribution, recognised by a group of judges who themselves are all really impressive people, is nice," he said.

"Some people might just say 'I'm doing my job. I get paid to be an academic and I get paid to be the Prime Minister's science adviser' but I think for them to recognise what we're trying to do and how far we've progressed things, that's what's satisfying - when people realise you are making a difference."

The annual Sir Peter Blake Leadership Awards recognise leaders who set an outstanding example for young people to emulate.

As well as the Blake Medal winner, six Blake Leaders were recognised at the glittering function last night at Auckland Museum.

Sir Peter, who was presented his award by Sir Peter Blake's daughter Jane, said one of the things he was most proud of was establishing the Liggins Institute - the University of Auckland's first large-scale research institute into long-term consequences of early life events.

"It's established itself as one of the preeminent centres in the world for studying what I think is still the most important question in science - what makes us what we are, and in particular, how we develop into what we are," he said.

"That institute had a remarkable staff and continues to do great things. It's a great legacy and I'm very proud of that."

Sir Peter said his current role as chief science adviser to the Prime Minister had also allowed him to begin imparting New Zealand's vision and expertise on a wider scale.

As for the future, Sir Peter said he would like to see New Zealand strive to become a more mature society.

"I see it as being able to have unsafe conversations in a safe way," he said. "We have lots of things where we need much more mature conversation in New Zealand society, whether it's inequality, the ratio of Maori in jail, use of new technologies, our place in the world, or what do we want to achieve with our economy. These conversations rapidly degenerate into trivial political rhetoric and Twitter storms.

"We can have good discussions about the relationship between science and policy, we can shift the national conversation. If you think about it, that's where the conversations about the future go."

Blake Leaders 2016

Dr Siouxsie Wiles

Siouxsie Wiles heads the Bioluminescent Superbugs Group at the University of Auckland - using organisms which produce light to help combat infectious diseases - and has marked herself as a scientist prepared to step outside the laboratory to advance causes she believes in.

Associate Professor Nancy Bertler

Nancy Bertler is making a major contribution to exploring climate change in Antarctica. She has led 13 expeditions to Antarctica and today serves on a number of steering committees around the globe.

Frances Valentine

Frances Valentine delivers programmes that prepare today's students for tomorrow's digital world. She self-funded her education model, The Mind Lab, in 2013 bringing together technologists, scientists and educators to lead workshops and this year she founded an initiative designed to help technology professionals and business executives upskill.

Ben Kepes

From technology evangelist to entrepreneur, mentor to commentator, emergency volunteer to business adviser - Ben Kepes is creating a legacy through leadership.

Regarded as New Zealand's go-to guy on Cloud Computing, Kepes is one of the country's most active mentors and is a globally respected commentator in the technology space.

Rob Waddell

Rob Waddell is taking all he has learned as an Olympic gold medallist and America's Cup gladiator and is transferring it into successful leadership. Waddell works with charitable organisations to advance sport and protect the environment and he is chef de mission for the New Zealand Olympic and Commonwealth Games.

Stacey Shortall

Respected in the legal community, Stacey Shortall's call to action - "Who did you help today?" - has become a movement connecting skilled people with not-for-profit projects. She set up the Mothers Project in 2014 to help imprisoned mothers have meaningful relationships with their children and is behind a campaign for homework clubs in decile one schools.

- NZ Herald

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