Dr John Kay received his well-deserved honour at Government House in Auckland on 3 May 2018.

On being awarded the MNZM, John felt “humbled, reflective, and acceptance”. He realised the nomination for the award was endorsed not only by senior staff at the NZDF, but by some very senior individuals from international partners who he has the utmost respect for.

During his 40 years at DTA and its previous organisations, John has worked on projects that have extended from the sea floor to space. His career has taken him into the fields of underwater acoustics, ship signatures, ship defence, airborne maritime surveillance, meteorological and oceanographic effects, contemporary threats, polar research, and most recently, space systems.

Read about how New Zealand’s space ecosystem has evolved over the last 10 years in John’s paper(external link) in the Journal of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

John is well known in the international defence science community and has led New Zealand’s participation in defence science research collaboration in the areas of maritime, electronic warfare and sensor systems.

Read more about John’s career in Our People

My career started by first recognising my passions and strengths – discovering, learning, creating, automating and transitioning.


The New Zealand Order of Merit(external link) is awarded to those “who in any field of endeavour, have rendered meritorious service to the Crown and the nation or who have become distinguished by their eminence, talents, contributions, or other merits”.

John has certainly demonstrated this during his scientific career. He is quick to acknowledge he has “been extremely privileged to team with many talented and skilled people, nationally and internationally”. He adds that it has been with their guidance, assistance and contributions that he could attain the achievements noted in the citation for the award.

What’s next?

After the investiture, John feels an increased responsibility to contribute more holistically in advancing science and engineering opportunities for New Zealanders.

His advice for people starting out in their scientific career, and in fact at any stage, is to “never stop exploring, expand your own horizons, but also maintain focus on your aspirations while accepting these may evolve.”

There are fantastic and ever-increasing science and engineering opportunities in New Zealand and overseas for those who are prepared to seek, give it a go, innovate, and try new ideas


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