Iritana Bennett-Fakahau walked onto the stage of the Ōtaki College hall in complete shock on Monday morning to accept a prestigious Māori science scholarship from the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

Iritana had applied in mid-March for a fully paid scholarship to attend the 60th London International Youth Science Forum (LIYSF) but had not heard back by April 16, the day successful applicants were due to be notified.

Little did she know that not only had her application been successful but Debbie Woodall from the Royal Society would present it to her at the college assembly with her parents and wider whānau there to see.

"I was so shocked," she said afterwards.


"As soon as they said someone was getting a scholarship I knew it was me as no one else had applied for it.

"My science teacher told me about a number of scholarships that I could apply for and specifically pulled me aside and said I had a chance.

"When I applied for this scholarship I had no confidence that I'd get it.

"It's amazing."

Iritana will join 300 of the world's leading young scientists aged 16 to 21 from more than 75 countries.

For two weeks, the participants live together at Imperial College in London as an international community, exchanging their ideas and experiences of the world "to give a greater insight into science and its application for the benefit of all mankind and to develop a greater understanding between young people of all nations".

Iritana is studying all three sciences — chemistry, biology and physics — along with calculus and te reo Māori, and is considering studying health sciences in Otago next year with the hope of becoming a doctor.

"We have a lot of academics in my family.


"My sister is in her last year of med school, my mum is a teacher, my father has a PhD and my stepfather is a lecturer.

"They've really inspired me, considering how well educated and informed they are.

"They really help and inspire me," she said.

"This award was initiated last year and is supported by LIYSF and the Talented School Students Travel Award managed by Royal Society Te Apārangi," Woodall said.

"We received over 50 applications from around the country and the panel was very impressed with Iritana's application."

The forum is from July 25 to August 8.

"I'm looking forward to meeting other teenagers from around the world that are really passionate and driven about science and to hear their ideas and opinions about science."