Rotorua Scientist Wins Prestigious Award

27 March 2007

Rotorua scientist Russell Burton, from Crown Research Institute Scion, has been recognised for his contribution to advancing chemical engineering knowledge in New Zealand, and service to the bioprocessing industries.

Dr Burton, now a group manager at Scion, has been awarded the Skellerup Award from the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ) for his services to chemical engineering and to the wood processing industry.

“I was stunned to find out I was even a finalist in the awards, and had no idea I’d even be nominated. To then hear I had won was a real surprise,” he says.

Dr Burton says the chemical engineering industry in New Zealand is small but has an important role in the country’s economy.

“Our profile is continuing to grow internationally because of the work that is being done by the small number of chemical engineers we have. The work we do is quite different because our focus is mainly on adding value to the dairy and pulp and paper industries – internationally the focus tends to be on petrochemicals.“

Dr Burton, who is originally from Christchurch, graduated with a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering from the University of Canterbury in 1977. He moved to Rotorua a year later to join what was then the Forestry Research Institute – now Scion.

“I’ve worked in Rotorua since then, except for a few years away to study for my PhD in the United Kingdom,” he says.

Scientific advancements that Dr Burton has been involved in at Scion include the design and operation of a wood to ethanol operation, and leading the commercialisation of a number of technologies.

Dr Burton’s role at Scion now focuses on growing investment in science and finding ways that the Scion team can help improve the profitability and viability of New Zealand’s forestry industry.

“It’s been an exciting journey at Scion. The forestry sector is a great area to work in because the industry has such potential. I now work more in a managerial role – but I still enjoy the challenge of what the researchers here are up to,” Dr Burton says.

While at Scion Dr Burton has held a number of external positions, including the Chair of the Society of Chemical Engineers New Zealand, the first New Zealander to Chair the Federation of Chemical Engineers Australasia, the Establishment Director of the World Council of Chemical Engineers and the first New Zealander to be president of the Asia-Pacific Congress of Chemical Engineers.

Scion Chief Executive Officer Dr Tom Richardson says Dr Burton has made a huge contribution to the chemical engineering field and to the industry in New Zealand – both in his research role and now in growing investment into research and development.

“Russell has helped to build international respect for the leading research taking place in New Zealand, and for bringing together government and industry to develop a number of substantial research programmes.”