Passionate microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles named as New Zealander of the Year

A British microbiologist who became a household name by giving expert advice during the Covid-19 pandemic has been named the 2021 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year – TePou Whakarae o Aotearoa.

Renowned microbiologist and science communicator Dr Siouxsie Wiles MNZM was presented the prestigious Kiwibank kaitaka huaki cloak, Pouhine, on Wednesday night.

Wiles received the award from the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Te Koruru – Patron of the Awards Miriama Kamo, said Wiles undeniably fitted the bill of being someone who used their passion to make the country a better place.

“While New Zealand collectively locked down, she stepped up – helping millions globally see past the fear and complexities of the pandemic. Her work provided support, strength and clarity across New Zealand and beyond, representing our country on a world stage and helping to keep us safe.

“Outside of the pandemic, she is a passionate and influential leader in her industry. Her willingness to break down barriers has opened doors for women in science, and her pioneering work in bioluminescence is redefining modern medicine.”

The award recognised her tireless work to make the science of the pandemic clear and
understandable despite facing considerable public criticism on her authority, appearance and gender.

The judges said she responded to one the greatest challenges of the time with “empathy, innovation and courage” and her work had been seen by millions and even used by governments and organisations as part of their official pandemic communications.

Wiles is an associate professor at the University of Auckland and heads up the Bioluminescent Superbugs Lab where they make bacteria glow in the dark to understand how infectious microbes make people sick, and to find new antibiotics.

She has won numerous prizes for her efforts in demystifying science and making it easier for people to understand.

The 2021 finalists for the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year category included Muslim community leader Farid Ahmed who has become an icon of forgiveness following the March 15 terror attacks and Tāmaki Health founder and director and domestic violence prevention campaigner Ranjina Patel.

Five other awards were also handed out on the night. Jazz Thornton, co-founder of Voices of Hope and mental health advocate, was named the University of Canterbury Young New Zealander of the Year Te Mātātahi o te Tau, academic and author Dr Doug Wilson was the Ryman Healthcare Senior New Zealander of the Year Te Mātāpuputu o te Tau, founder and Director of Tāmaki Health and domestic violence prevention Ranjina Patel was named the Trade Me New Zealand Innovator of the Year Te Pou Whakairo o te Tau and environmental engineer Shannon Te Huia was awarded the Kiwibank New Zealand Local Hero of the Year Te Pou Toko o te Tau.

The Christchurch Mosque Victims Groupwas also recognised for its work supporting people impacted by the mosque attack victims by receiving the Mitre 10 New Zealand Community of the Year Ngā Pou Whirinaki o te Tau.

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