Sleep research reaps honour
Camborne-based Professor Philippa Gander has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
The honour recognises her more than 35-year career in researching the effects of sleep, the circadian body clock, and their implications for health and safety.
Gander has always been fascinated by the brain’s timer and its role in releasing melatonin at night to help us feel drowsy and cortisol to help us rise with the sun.
Her research into the internal time-keeping system that keeps people functioning in step with the day/night cycle, known as the circadian clock, is increasingly more relevant with today’s technology.
‘‘The circadian body clock is light sensitive, and particularly sensitive to the blue light that is found in the technologies people are using late at night,’’ she said.
‘‘This light delays the body clock, making it harder to go to sleep and harder to get up in the morning. So, we have to use this new science to come up with better solutions.’’
After completing her doctorate at Auckland University, she received a Fulbright award in 1980 to study at Harvard Medical School in Boston, America.
NASA recruited her to work in their Ames Research Centre in Mountain View, California, in 1983 where she focused on circadian physiology, sleep, fatigue and their consequences for aviation safety and exploration of the solar system.
A fellowship from the Health Research Council of NZ enabled her to return home and subsequently establish the Sleep/Wake Research Centre, now at Massey University in Wellington.
In 2009 she was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society of New Zealand for her innovative research on the science of sleep and fatigue risk management.
‘‘My work, career and research is about service to the New Zealand community, and that’s very precious to me. So, I am honoured, very much so, to have been made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.’’