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The Royal Society of New Zealand has established a charitable trust, the Rutherford Foundation, to provide funding for PhD education, postdoctoral research and early career development in science.
It will also support science teachers, who underpin the science system.
The government will contribute $1 million per annum to the Rutherford Foundation, Minister of Research, Science and Technology, Hon Pete Hodgson, announced tonight at a function at Wellington Town Hall.
Said Mr Hodgson, "This represents not only the government's commitment to the development of young people in science, but also the faith that the government has in the Royal Society to both professionally run such a programme and be able to raise significant funds from both private and charitable organisations."
In the first instance, the funds will be used to send PhD students to the University of Cambridge, which will support the programme with a 50% reduction in student fees. The first two Royal Society of New Zealand Rutherford Foundation scholars will be announced at Rutherford's 100th Nobel Anniversary Celebration on 10 December this year. A Freemasons New Zealand Postdoctoral Fellowship will also be established under the auspices of the Foundation, extending their already considerable contribution to education and scientific research.
The Foundation is appropriately named after Ernest Rutherford, who, in 1894, was awarded an 1851 Exhibition Scholarship that allowed him to travel abroad to carry out research in physics. He chose to attend the University of Cambridge, which had just begun to accept research students from overseas.
Said President of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Neville Jordan, "This Foundation is about opportunity, inspiration, and broadening horizons. If Rutherford had not had, first a scholarship to Nelson College, and then another to Cambridge, he would no doubt have ended up in the public service or the family flax milling business. Few families in those days could afford to send their sons and daughters to secondary school, let alone university.
"We are grateful to the government for backing this initiative. The $1million per annum will help the Foundation leverage private funding. The Rutherford Foundation will seek bequests and donations from individuals and corporations who want to help create new opportunities in science for young people and their teachers."
Permission to name the Foundation after Lord Rutherford was generously given by his great granddaughter Mary Fowler, Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of London. She sent a video message to be played at the launch event in which she expressed her delight that the prestige of the Rutherford name was to be used in this way.
His Excellency The Hon Anand Satyanand, Governor-General of New Zealand, has also lent his mana to the Foundation by agreeing to be patron, and playing a part in the selection of scholars.