In the comic series, young Peter Parker's Spider-Man bounded between buildings with a super-sticky web.

Now one Auckland teen has created his own spider-inspired invention - and it's landed him a top science prize from Jacinda Ardern.

Seventeen-year-old Jonathan Chan today received the $50,000 Prime Minister's Future Science Prize for his sophisticated, 3D-printed mesh, which emulates a spider web.

The innovation's purpose is collecting fog to provide good-quality drinking water in developing nations that most need it.

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His fascination with the idea came after reading about a global, million-dollar competition to harvest water from the air.

With help from his teachers at Auckland Grammar School, and Auckland University researchers Dr Duncan McGillivray and Shinji Kihara, he began exploring where he could take the concept.

While there were already some basic fog collection systems, Jonathan sought to make a mesh that mimicked wetted spider silk or cactus spine, by controlling its size and structure, and adding a chemical coating.

Using detailed calculations and sophisticated lab tests, he found a suitable mesh coating of polystyrene, a hydrophobic polymer, and refined the concentration of the chemicals to overcome problems of clogging the mesh's pores.

"Mine is more fringe research and could be applied to the real world but whether it can be simplified and taken to a mass scale depends on demand," he said.

"I hope there is a future for this technology."

While there were already some basic fog collection systems, Jonathan sought to make a mesh that mimicked wetted spider silk or cactus spine, by controlling its size and structure, and adding a chemical coating. Photo / Supplied
While there were already some basic fog collection systems, Jonathan sought to make a mesh that mimicked wetted spider silk or cactus spine, by controlling its size and structure, and adding a chemical coating. Photo / Supplied

Auckland Grammar School headmaster Tim O'Connor described Jonathan as a smart and incredibly talented student.

"He's very organised, self-motivated and has a natural aptitude for study, motivated by a strong work ethic and ability to problem solve at an advanced level," O'Connor said.

"To see a student win at such a high level is aspirational for others. It sends a very strong message that there was someone in their midst who has achieved at this level, making it more realistic for them to also be working at this level."

Jonathan was now enrolled at the University of Auckland to begin biochemistry studies, with the goal of eventually being involved in designing new drug therapies.

Winning the prize had driven him to do further research.

"I think it shows that research is something I am good at, and it drives me towards my goal of applying cutting-edge research to solve real world problems," he said. "It's a pinnacle of my achievements."

Top prize for 'saviour' kiwifruit

Jonathan was one of five recipients of this year's awards, presented by Ardern at a ceremony at Parliament's Banquet Hall this afternoon.

The top prize, worth $500,000, went to the Plant and Food Research team that helped the kiwifruit industry battle back from the devastating Psa-V disease.

After Psa was discovered at a Te Puke orchard in 2010, the Crown research institute mobilised a team of more than 100 experts.

The effort resulted in a new gold kiwifruit cultivar now sold around the world as SunGold.

Forty-eight million trays of the new variety were sold last season, with an export value of $686 million - up 70 per cent on the previous year and increasing by around 10 million trays a year.

But, at the time of the crisis, SunGold was still in the initial commercialisation phase.

Hundreds of genetically diverse varieties from the breeding programme had been screened and evaluated to find plant variety cultivars that had increased tolerance to the disease, and also met grower requirements and consumer demands for taste.

SunGold emerged as the winner but Plant and Food Research chief operating officer Dr Bruce Campbell said picking it had still been a leap of faith.

The Prime Minister's Science Prize went to a Plant and Food Research team that helped the kiwifruit industry recover from the devastating Psa-V disease after it was discovered at a Te Puke orchard in 2010. Photo / Supplied
The Prime Minister's Science Prize went to a Plant and Food Research team that helped the kiwifruit industry recover from the devastating Psa-V disease after it was discovered at a Te Puke orchard in 2010. Photo / Supplied

"We had to have confidence that we were backing the right horse," he said.

"It was such a big thing to take a punt on. If we had got it wrong, it would have been devastating."

The Prime Minister's MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize, worth $200,000, was awarded to Otago University scientist Dr Carla Meledandri.

The US-born scientist is exploring ways to solve problems using ultra-small materials that look, act and react differently when they are reduced to the nano-scale.

Early applications of her award-winning science include silver nanoparticles to treat and prevent dental disease, and finding ways to store and use clean energy technologies that have the potential to replace fossil fuels.

Silver nanoparticles developed in her Dunedin lab are being incorporated into a range of breakthrough products designed to fight tooth decay and infection, through a start-up company, Silventum Limited.

The Prime Minister's Science Teacher Prize was awarded to Nelson College for Girls science teacher Sarah Johns.

She picked up the $150,000 honour for what the judges described as "100 per cent commitment" to her students - and an uncompromising approach to bringing out the best in them.

In the nine years that Johns has been teaching at the college, student involvement in science and technology projects had increased steadily, with around 70 students now taking part in a regional fair each year.

"I encourage the girls to 'just throw it at the wall and see what sticks'," Johns said.

"Only then does that allow them to fully explore their thinking and put their ideas out there, to unpack them with others and often see the potential to build further on the idea.

"I see my role as being a master of chaos — letting them go to explore their ideas and their passion but there to provide support."

The $100,000 Prime Minister's Science Communication Prize went to well-known Auckland journalist and broadcaster Damian Christie, who will use the funds to help launch his dream project, the Aotearoa Science Agency.

"The stories that scientists tell are fascinating and so important," says Damian Christie, pictured in Antarctica. Photo / Supplied

The new agency will showcase achievements and discoveries made by New Zealand's science sector.

"It's important for us to understand what scientists do and why," said Christie, a former TVNZ reporter who already produces science content through his company, Scifilms.

"The stories that scientists tell are fascinating and so important. I think that if we end up with more people getting into science careers New Zealand will be the better for it."

The win - which followed a similar honour from the Science Communicators Association of New Zealand - recognised Christie's collaboration with YouTube star Jamie Curry on a video series shot in Antarctica.

It gained more than 2.5 million views on social media, featured on television, radio, in several media publications and played on Air New Zealand international flights.

"The aim was to engage with young people, especially Jamie's audience of young women aged 13 to 25, and start them thinking about climate change and climate science."

Christie said science influenced many things that affect us - from biosecurity to global warming and antibiotic resistance - making it critical for the public to gain a deeper appreciation of it.

"There's so much of the unknown out there and you can learn so much about very ordinary or extraordinary objects around you whether it be something inside a lab, in the stream down the road or in the bush behind you," he said.

"It's thrilling to learn about these things. I come home fizzing with new knowledge every day."