Science medal and link to wealth creation a great endeavour

By Peter Kerr 18/11/2011

It’s great to see some public recognition of scientists and (by implication) science with the just announced medals presented to 13 New Zealanders by the Royal Society.

Reading some of the citations and background on the women (with the main gong, the Rutherford Medal being won by a member of fairer sex for the first time) and men, the depth and breadth of research carried out in this country totally punches above our size. The list of winners and their ‘story’ can be found here.

Of particular note from an innovation point of view, mention should be made of Neville Jordan.

He’s picked up the Thomson Medal awarded ‘for his contribution to the development and application of science and technology to wealth generation through his management of MAS Technology Ltd, Endeavour Capital Ltd and his role as a director of numerous spin-out companies he has supported through the latter.’

As an august body, the Royal Society’s role is to advance science, technology and the humanities — which it does across many different spheres. Its strapline (on its home webpage) is ‘a place for knowledge and excellence’.

This certainly doesn’t preclude wealth creation, and indeed, without the money that wealth provides, publicly funded science couldn’t be carried out.

Science produces ideas, be it thinking or products or understanding.

In a sense though, ideas are easy.

It is turning them into something that is of value, often measured in monetary returns, that is the real trick.

Or, put another way, if innovation were easy, everyone would be doing it.

But it is not. It takes hard work, market understanding, good management, sometimes a bit of luck, and guts.

Jordan’s demonstrated these attributes, and New Zealand’s better off as a result.

Conferring the Thomson Medal on him is a boost to the idea that using our brains to make money is a good thing.

It also demonstrates that science, and its pursuit, is not antithetical to riches.

Overseas, those with a science and engineering background are encouraged to (also) get into business.

In its own small way, Jordan’s winning of the Thomson Medal is another small move for New Zealand down a similar path.