A scientist made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year Honours says his role in helping to free David Dougherty, wrongfully imprisoned for rape, is one of his career highlights.

Auckland's Dr Arie Geursen, 60, received the honour for his services to science after decades of research into drug development and involvement in several criminal cases as a forensic scientist.

The most high-profile of those was his involvement with the case of Dougherty, who was wrongly convicted of the abduction and rape of an 11-year-old girl in 1993.

Using his forensic skills, Dr Geursen was able to point out the defects in the prosecution's forensic evidence.


"There have been a number of (career) highlights but one was being able to uncover the injustice to David Dougherty and that ultimately the true offender was identified and convicted," he said.

"I just knew it was scientific nonsense", he said of the prosecution's evidence.

He said the honour was also recognition Dougherty's lawyer Murray Gibson and journalist Donna Chisholm, whom he worked alongside for seven years to have the case reopened, a retrial ordered and an apology and compensation from the Crown for the wrongly convicted man.

Much of his work on the case was voluntary: "I was fortunate that my employer gave me the freedom to be involved".

Dr Geursen learnt just before Christmas he had been made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit when he got a letter from Governor-General Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae.

"It is a tremendous honour - recognition for the work that you do," he said.

His love for science started as a teenager, when he came top of his sixth form class in the subject.

Since then, it has been a desire "to help people and put the skills you have to the appropriate use" that have driven him throughout his career.


His other roles include being a guest lecturer for the University of Otago, vice president of the International Forensic Practitioners Institute and a regular presenter at scientific conferences.

He also volunteers as chief director of New Zealand Bridge and is president of the Franklin Bridge Club.

Dr Geursen said he had no plans to slow down.

Working as part of a joint venture between Fonterra and Auckland University, he is helping to develop technology to offset the side effects of chemotherapy.