Skip to main content

Sir Peter Gluckman, a facilitator for international collaboration

Sir Peter Gluckman is at the forefront of New Zealand’s diplomatic advancements in science and technology. | Syd Mannion Photography

Despite being one of the smallest and most remote advanced economies in the world, about 40 percent of New Zealand’s scientific papers have an international partner, according to Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Adviser to New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key and winner of the 2015 AAAS Award for Science Diplomacy.

“We live off of tourism and exporting food. We have no strategic import because of geography…. Therefore, one of our challenges is to be relevant and be recognized by the rest of the world,” Gluckman said. “And we know that an increasing amount of the best science, at least that which has the most impact, comes from international collaborations.”

New Zealand is engaged in several strategic partnerships in science and technology with the European Union, China, and the United States, and bolsters its science and innovation partnerships at the multilateral level by participating in the Global Research Council, the Human Frontiers Science Programme, OECD Global Science Forum, and the APEC Policy Partnership on Science, Technology and Innovation. New Zealand recently announced it would invest $15 million over four years in the Catalyst Fund, which supports activities that initiate, develop, and foster collaborations leveraging international science and innovation for New Zealand’s benefit.

Gluckman is at the forefront of New Zealand’s diplomatic advancements in science and technology. In 2012 the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum created the Chief Science Advisers and Equivalents based on Gluckman’s advice and named him one of the group’s standing co-chairs. In 2013, Gluckman served as a delegate to the third European Union-New Zealand Joint Science and Technology Cooperation Committee in Brussels, Belgium, and in 2014, Gluckman hosted, convened and chaired an international conference on Science Advice to Governments. That later led to the establishment of the International Network for Science Advice to Governments, which Gluckman co-founded. The group has since created an organized body for capacity building and dialogue on best practices in the field of scientific advice.

Gluckman began his career in Dunedin and Auckland as a pediatrician, but after two years as a doctor, he began his work as a research scientist. After four years as postdoctoral fellow, Gluckman began teaching as an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco. He returned to New Zealand years later to set up the Centre for Growth, Development and Metabolism in the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences.

Currently, he leads the Epigen Consortium, which comprises five institutions located in the United Kingdom, Singapore and New Zealand. But his experience practicing science as an “international enterprise” started nearly 20 years ago.

“The thing I guess I’m most well known on in that regard is my long-standing collaboration with professor [Mark] Hanson from [the University of] Southampton, which has lasted close to 20 years,” Gluckman said. “We’ve been doing a lot of joint work in thinking about developmental origins, the evolution and medicine interface and the development and evolution interface.”

Gluckman said it was his collaboration with Hanson that led to the creation of the Epigen Consortium, which eventually helped pave the way to his current post as New Zealand’s Chief Science Adviser.

Since taking over in 2009, Gluckman’s intellectual interests have increasingly become focused on the intersections between science and society, international affairs, and the role of diplomacy and science in protecting national interests and reaching national goals. He writes a blog on the Office of the Prime Minister’s Science Advisory Committee website, and wrote in 2014, “Policy: The art of science advice to government” for Nature, outlining 10 principles to help guide science advisers in the work they do. In 2013, his office released a report titled “New Zealand’s Changing Climate and Oceans,” which reviewed the latest science in climate change and how it would impact New Zealand. Also in 2013, his office created the National Science Challenges, which identified 10 research areas as the most important facing New Zealand. The country’s government then allocated $133.5 million over four years to research.

And Gluckman continues to expand and diversify New Zealand's scientific influence. He helped establish the 46-member Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases in 2009, which researches and develops methods to grow food using climate-resilient systems without increasing emissions. He has also served as co-chair of the World Health Organization’s Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity.

Dealing with international scientists and other countries is work that Gluckman says he's well suited for. “I think science has always been a balance between people who are integrators and people who are comfortable with focusing on particular questions,” Gluckman said.

He attributes his ability to integrate knowledge from various sciences to his background in medical science. Following his interests throughout his career gave him a wide swath of scientific knowledge that he has brought to bear as an informed and effective scientific adviser and science diplomat. 

Representative Image Caption
<p>Sir Peter Gluckman is at the forefront of New Zealand’s diplomatic advancements in science and technology. | Syd Mannion Photography</p>
Blog Name