Being a student, teacher or researcher of science is about to pay off for a lucky few - the Prime Minister has announced science prizes worth $1 million will be given out in February, including a single prize of $500,000.

Some $50,000 of the money will go to a secondary school student to support further study, while an excellent school science teacher will scoop $50,000 plus $100,000 for their school.

Announcing the prizes at a visit to Plant and Food Research, the Mt Albert-based crown research institute, John Key acknowledged that New Zealand did not rank as highly among countries for science spending as the Government would like.

He said one of the reasons for the new prizes was to show young people wanting to pursue science careers that there were opportunities for them.

The big prize of $500,000 will go to a scientist or leader of a team who has made a discovery or achievement that has a significant impact on the economy, health, society or the environment. Of that, $100,000 is to spend as the winner likes and the other $400,000 is to support ongoing work.

Three smaller prizes of $150,000 will go to a science teacher, a science communicator and to the MacDiarmid emerging scientist, a new prize replacing the existing MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the year award, for young scientists working towards their PhDs.

This year's MacDiarmid Young Scientist winner, Victoria University's John Watt, will get a bonus $150,000 on top of his existing prize.

The other inaugural winners will be announced in February, with subsequent winners announced each November.

The Government has said science innovation is the key to lifting New Zealand's productivity to reach a par with Australia's.

The Budget largely held research and technology funding constant, but the PM has asked his chief science adviser, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, to recommend ways of increasing the benefit from that money.

Sir Peter has hinted that he believes science funding in New Zealand is sometimes too competitive relative to the size of the country.

Mr Key said yesterday that the Government was looking at the structure of the science sector, and how best to increase private sector engagement with science and research.

"Our scientists are doing high-quality research in many areas but too often their achievements receive little public acclaim."

* Prime Minister's Science Prize $500,000.
* MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist of the Year Prize - $150,000.
* Future Scientist Prize - $50,000.
* Science Teacher Prize - $50,000 to teacher and $100,000 to school.
* Science Media Communications Prize - $150,000.

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