Te Pūnaha Matatini has been selected as the 2020 Te Puiaki Pūtaiao Matua a Te Pirimia Prime Minister’s Science Prize Winner.

Te Pūnaha Matatini (meaning ‘the meeting place of many faces’) is a Centre of Research Excellence funded by the Tertiary Education Commission and hosted by the University of Auckland.

Te Pūnaha Matatini brings together ‘many faces’ through working together with a range of innovators across varying disciplines, ways of thought and methodologies. Over the past 6 years, Te Pūnaha Matatini has grown from an idea into a diverse national network of over a hundred investigators and students who are tackling the interconnected and deeply interdisciplinary challenges of our time.

Te Pūnaha Matatini has been uniquely positioned and have the relevant expertise to have aided the COVID-19 pandemic in a significant way for Aotearoa. Throughout the pandemic, they have developed a series of new mathematical models and ran a multitude of different scenarios to inform the unique situation that New Zealand found itself in, analysing the data generated to directly inform the New Zealand Government’s response to COVID-19. The results of this work were translated for the Government policymakers, front-line operators and helped inform the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The modelling from Te Pūnaha Matatini  was key in helping government make good decisions about lockdowns, particularly in April and May when the need to relax Alert Levels arrived, and in August, when a tailored lockdown was used in Auckland was used to eliminate a large outbreak

Te Pūnaha Matatini created modelling work, together with other scientists’ research from around the globe, that was actively communicated to the public throughout 2020, with several of the researchers from Te Pūnaha Matatini emerging as the nation’s most prominent science communicators during the crisis. The team’s work was regularly cited in the daily 1 pm briefings and received widespread media attention.

Te Pūnaha Matatini with the Prime Minister and Minister Woods

Public trust in science has soared throughout the pandemic, as evident in surveys conducted in Germany and the UK, which has been directly credited to the influential work of science communicators, such as those from Te Pūnaha Matatini.

The work created by Te Pūnaha Matatini is open and transparent, with an accelerated alternate review process implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure agility in a fast-moving crisis so that papers and findings were communicated faster than traditional review processes allow. Colleagues, mainly from New Zealand, were selected to comment on papers prior to Te Pūnaha Matatini communicating the research findings, which helped to ensure that contemporary knowledge of inequalities in the New Zealand health system and many other social impacts were represented.

The team’s strong, experienced science communication team (including but not limited to prior Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize winners Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles and Professor Shaun Hendy) aided the spread of information through social and traditional media, working to change the tide of the so-called ‘Infodemic’ to flow in the direction of the research findings from Te Pūnaha Matatini

Te Pūnaha Matatini has been instrumental in New Zealand’s COVID-19 strategy. They have worked with policymakers to make a difference and also put an emphasis on communication and a transdisciplinary approach to science.

For more information on the mahi by Te Pūnaha Matatini, please see the media release.

See the video of the Prime Minister’s Science Prize Award Ceremony.



Te Pūnaha Matatini rōpū team members:

Professor Michael Plank, Theme Co-Leader, Complexity and the Biosphere; Principal Investigator
Professor Shaun Hendy, Director and Team Leader

Professor Shaun Hendy MNZM FRSNZ University of Auckland

Director, Team Leader

Professor Michael Plank University of Canterbury

Theme Co-Leader, Complexity and the Biosphere; Principal Investigator

Associate Professor Alex James University of Canterbury

Deputy Director, Industry & Stakeholder Engagement; Principal Investigator

Mr Nicholas Steyn University of Canterbury and University of Auckland

Research Assistant

Dr Audrey Lustig Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research

Associate Investigator

Dr Rachelle Binny Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research

Associate Investigator

Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles MNZM University of Auckland

Co-Deputy Director, Public Engagement, Principal Investigator

Ms Kate Hannah University of Auckland

Ms Kate Hannah, Deputy Director, Diversity and Equity; Associate Investigator
Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles, Co-Deputy Director, Public Engagement, Principal Investigator

Deputy Director, Diversity and Equity; Associate Investigator

Dr Giulio Dalla Riva University of Canterbury

Associate Investigator

Mr Max Soar Victoria University Wellington

Research Assistant

Mr Andrew Sporle University of Auckland

Research Consultant

Dr Dion O’Neale University of Auckland

Principal Investigator

Dr Emily Harvey Market Economics

Principal Investigator

Dr Oliver Maclaren University of Auckland

Associate Investigator

Mr Adrian Ortiz-Cervantes University of Auckland

Research Assistant

Mr Frankie Patten-Elliott University of Auckland

Dr Dion O’Neale, Principal Investigator
Mr Andrew Sporle, Research Consultant

Research Assistant

Mr Steven Turnbull University of Auckland

Research Fellow

Mr David Wu University of Auckland

Research Assistant

Dr Mike O’Sullivan University of Auckland

Associate Investigator

Associate Professor Ilze Ziedins University of Auckland

Principal Investigator

Associate Professor Cameron Walker University of Auckland

Associate Investigator

Dr Kevin Ross Orion Health

Data Science Consultant; Past Te Pūnaha Matatini Advisory Board Member

Ms Pieta Brown Orion Health

Data Science Consultant; Te Pūnaha Matatini Advisory Board Member

Associate Professor Ilze Ziedins, Principal Investigator
Ms Pieta Brown,

Dr Ning Hua  Orion Health

Data Science Consultant




Nicholas Steyn, Research Assistant