Sir Peter Gluckman

Order of New Zealand for services to New Zealand

Sir Peter Gluckman has spent a lifetime in laboratories, poring over data, and lobbying tirelessly for scientific interests to anyone who will listen. But his biggest scientific breakthroughs took place over a pint of cold beer at the pub.

His work in pre- and post-natal nutrition, which has earned him an international reputation, grew out of "eureka" moments while sipping a drink.

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"Maybe the answer to science is free beer," Sir Peter mused as those scientific achievements helped earn him this country's highest honour.

He has been made appointed to the Order of New Zealand, which is reserved for fewer than 20 living New Zealanders.

"This is something very special," Sir Peter said. "My wife [Judy] says she's never seen my jaw drop so much as when I opened the letter from the Governor-General."

Sir Peter is the only living scientist on the list. The honour recognises that science is now part of the fabric of New Zealand, he says. In the last 20 years, the public has begun to understand science's core role in society, in the economy and in the environment. Science is no longer talked about solely as a "cost" but often as an "investment".

Sir Peter spoke to the Herald from Brussels, where he is doing diplomatic work in his capacity as the Prime Minister's Chief Science Adviser. The job takes up most of his time these days, though the number of scientific projects he still juggles is "a standing joke".

When he was knighted in 2009 he told the Herald he would remain an active scientist until his "brain rots". He still dabbles in evolutionary biology and oversees a Melinda and Bill Gates-funded study on stunted growth in infants.

Sir Peter began his career as a doctor before quickly moving into research. A conversation in a German pub in the 1980s about the use of drugs in rats' brains later led him to co-develop the "cooling cap" which is widely used to combat brain damage in oxygen-deprived newborns.

A conversation in an English pub led to a new understanding of the way poor nutrition in the womb influenced health later in life.

His subsequent work on perinatal care with the Liggins Institute underpins Government healthcare policy.

The Order of New Zealand

The 18 current ordinary members are:

Dame Miriam Dell, women's advocate, 1993; Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, opera singer, 1995; Sir Miles Warren, architect, 1995; The Right Honourable Jim Bolger, former Prime Minister, 1997; Kenneth Douglas, trade unionist, 1998; Dr Clifford Whiting, artist, 1998; The Right Honourable Mike Moore, politician and Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, 1999; His Eminence Cardinal Thomas Williams, church leader, 2000; The Right Honourable Jonathan Hunt, politician, 2004; Professor Sir Lloyd Geering, theologian, 2006; The Right Honourable Sir Kenneth Keith, International Court of Justice, 2007; The Right Honourable Sir Don McKinnon, politician, 2007; Sir Murray Halberg, Olympic medallist and charity worker, 2008; The Right Honourable Helen Clark, former Prime Minister and Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme; Sir Bob Charles, golfer, 2010; Emeritus Professor Albert Wendt, novelist, poet, short story writer, playwright and painter, 2013; Sir Ron Carter, businessman and engineer, 2014; Sir Peter Gluckman, scientist, 2015.