Retired Associate Professor Al Rowland has been named by the New Zealand Herald newspaper as one of the top 10 New Zealanders of the year for his chromosome research on former military personnel exposed to nuclear testing.
Dr Rowland, who retired earlier this year from the Institute of Molecular Biosciences on the Manawatu campus, found the veterans had suffered genetic damage – research a British High Court judge described as "pivotal" in the judge's decision to allow former servicemen to seek compensation from the British Government.
The New Zealand Nuclear Test Veterans’ Association commissioned Dr Rowland to look at the cells of 50 veterans for damage. Dr Rowland says the findings are unequivocal: in a matched control group of men of the same age, his team found an expected frequency of 10 chromosome translocations per 1000 cells, but in the veterans’ group, the average number of translocations was considerably higher at 29 chromosome translocations per 1000 cells. Workers who were close to the Chernobyl nuclear accident or involved in the clean-up after the accident had about 20 translocations.
Before his retirement, Dr Rowland was the inaugural winner of the Massey University Students' Association (Manawatu) lecturer of the year award.