SBS celebrates its 21st birthday in style

18 March 2014
SBS celebrates its 21st birthday in style - Soon Lee and Dr Manpreet Kaur Dhami cut the cake 14041SBSParty-330

More than 250 alumni and current staff and students of the School of Biological Sciences gathered in a marquee on the lawn of Old Government House on March 18 to celebrate the school’s 21st birthday.

Among the guests were the Chief Executive of the Royal Society, Dr Dianne McCarthy, and SBS founding director Emeritus Professor Dick Bellamy.  Representatives of SBS’s research donors were also present, among them Cure Kids CEO Vicki Lee and trustees of the Stevenson Foundation.

‘Madame of Ceremonies’ Professor  Gillian Lewis,  SBS’ third and current head, paid tribute to the work of Prof Bellamy and his successor, Prof Joerg Kistler, in SBS’s success. The school, formed in the early 90s, was a marriage of the departments of biochemistry, botany, zoology and cellular and molecular biology.

“Dick Bellamy carefully steered the school across the bumpy ground of amalgamation and made the first appointments of young researchers – Garth Cooper, Mike Walker and Scott Baker,” said Prof Lewis. “They are now professors and acknowledged as some of the finest researchers in New Zealand and the world. The energising effect of these young talented staff on the students and in attracting further great people was remarkable and fundamental to our success.”

Prof Lewis added, “Joerg’s vision for the school brought a change in thinking that went beyond the walls of the university … in bringing industry partners and co-locators into SBS.”  Among these is the Institute for Innovation in Biotechnology and the Joint Graduate School in Plant and Food Science.

Guest speakers were Prof Rod Dunbar, Director of the Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery, and cetacean researcher Dr Rochelle Constantine. Both outlined their current research and two themes stood out in both speeches – their passion for their work and their belief that SBS was full of the “nice and talented” people with whom they preferred to work.

Two star graduates of SBS were asked to cut the SBS birthday cake.  Soon Lee was one of SBS’s earliest postgraduate students, completing his MSc in 1994. He worked at both Landcare and at Plant & Food Research before returning to SBS in 2003. He now works as research technician in Wine Science.

Dr Manpreet Kaur Dhami completed her undergraduate degree in 2006 and her PhD in 2013. She works in the Ministry of Primary Industries’ plant health laboratory, but is soon to start a research fellowship at Stanford University in the United States, where she will be investigating the nectars of hummingbird-pollinated flowers.