11 May, 2017
The Interface Industry Challenge is a new joint initiative conceived by the MacDiarmid Institute and the Dodd-Walls Centre, under which scientists from two Centres of Research Excellence (CoREs) tackle real world problems faced by New Zealand companies.
“We wanted to extend our partnerships with industry. Asking industry to set problems for the Dodd-Walls Centre and the MacDiarmid Institute has really got everybody excited. The companies are excited about tapping into top research minds, and the scientists are excited about working with and making a contribution to these companies.”
Under the ‘Interface Industry Challenge’, the Dodd-Walls Centre and the MacDiarmid Institute put out a call to New Zealand companies to come up with problems needing a hi-tech science solution. Seven New Zealand companies have posed problems.
MacDiarmid Deputy Director Justin Hodgkiss on RadioNZ Business News on 10 May
MacDiarmid Deputy Director Justin Hodgkiss on Nine to Noon this morning 23 May
The NBR interviewed one of our industry partners, Dr Andrew West, about the Interface Industry Challenge – the podcast is on the NBR site
“It’s a bit like speed dating except there are high-tech manufacturers and scientific boffins involved rather than swinging singles.
Two Crown research institutes, the MacDiarmid Institute and the Dodd-Walls Centre, wanted to connect their top scientists with some of New Zealand’s most innovative companies and showcase what they could do for them.
So they launched an Interface Industry Challenge late last year asking companies to come up with commercial problems they couldn’t solve within their own technological capability, which the CREs will help solve for free.
The centres of research excellence are virtual institutions that draw on the talent of top scientists from anywhere in the country in a particular research area. The Dodd Walls Centre specialises in photonic and quantum technologies while the MacDiarmid Institute focuses on materials science and nanotechnology.
Following the signing of a mountain of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with companies keen to protect their intellectual property, the two CREs are working on proofs of concept to solve problems for seven companies they’ve matched to various scientists. The scientists are now starting to produce some solutions the companies can use as a competitive advantage, and in some cases may even lead to new intellectual property.
Justin Hodgkiss, MacDiarmid’s deputy director for commercialisation and industry engagement, says what they didn’t realise in the inaugural challenge was the legal hassles the NDAs would cause.
Because the CRES are not legal entities, the NDAs had to be signed by nearly all the country’s universities whose scientists are involved, which was something of a logistical nightmare. The process has been streamlined for next time, Mr Hodgkiss says.
The Minister of Science and Innovation is officially launching the challenge today as part of TechWeek.
The directors of both institutes — MacDiarmid’s Professor Thomas Nann and Professor Chris Hutchinson from the Dodd-Walls Centre — say New Zealand industry needs to keep innovating to stay ahead.
The challenge was a fun way of letting companies know what scientific help they could tap into, they say, and both CREs hope funding the initial research now will benefit them with longer-term research partnerships.
The seven companies involved range from larger companies such as Fisher & Paykel Healthcare and Buckley Systems to startups Avertana, Lanaco, Aquafortus Technologies and Invisi Shield.
Andy West, a director on the boards of Aquafortus and Lanaco, says it is unusual to get free research from CREs and that’s helpful for both companies he’s helping govern which are still at the stage of “burning capital and are yet to enter full revenue profitability,” though Lanaco is close.
Lanaco is a materials science company that uses fine wood blended with synthetic fibres to produce what it dubs as the world’s most breathable air filter, while Aquafortus Technologies is developing water extraction technology involving organic chemistry which could potentially extract water from liquid waste materials and help desalination.
“We have access to some extremely clever people across a range of universities as CREs are not normally in just one site – they draw the best people from around the country in any given field. And we have access to really expensive scientific equipment we couldn’t afford ourselves, “ Dr West says.”
How does materials science underpin hi-value manufacturing? MacDiarmid Institute investigators and industry partner company directors discuss how commercialisation of scientific breakthroughs can help New Zealand’s industry and knowledge economy.
May 8, 2019
Associate Professor Nicola Gaston: Can you imagine a future where electricity is practically free, where there's clean water available for everyone and a simple blood test taken at home can help diagnose some diseases?
The technology that can make each of those things possible is based on materials science. Materials are all around us; this coffee cup, this table, even this sugar I might put in the coffee. When we make things really small, as we do in nanotechnology, we create a material that has most of its substance at the surface. With sugar, that means it dissolves quickly. But in general what it means is that we can control the properties of that material with great precision. So we can take a material, any material - it could be a metal or it could be plastic - and we can play with the surface and give it new abilities. For example, we could make it anti-bacterial or we could make it absorb more light.
The MacDiarmid Institute is a network of New Zealand's best materials scientists. Materials science is the basis of all high-tech manufacturing, including sustainable environmental innovations such as new solar cells or carbon capture technologies for climate change mitigation. We work with existing industries and we also spinout new companies. In the past 15 years we have spun out 16 new companies.
Dr Ray Thomson: We are achieving a lot of spinouts and commercialisation activity with our investigator-led network. I think one of the big problems is that industry doesn't know much about what is happening in the universities. It was really interesting to see the way that MacDiarmid Investigators got right behind trying to solve industry problems.
Dr Andrew West: It provides a fantastic collaboration if you want between the market context where we are coming from, the fundamental science where the MacDiarmid Institute is coming from. Now you put them together and you have got a recipe for success.
Greg Olsen: It's always a great opportunity when you can get more resource to a finite team that you have. So being able to grow that team but not just with the same people we have hear at Fisher and Paykel healthcare, we have got access to top scientists and top materials science people and that's enabling us to do more and more at the cutting edge of the technology.
Dr Andrew West: Aquafortus which has got a fundamental breakthrough in organic chemistry, we are delighted to be working with the MacDiarmid to help sort out and explain the mechanism of that fundamental breakthrough. And if it is what we think it is it will lead to protection of intellectual property which is unparalleled. So Lanaco, that is a deeply scientific company that is reinventing wool from the sheep's back to be used for air filtration. We need the MacDiarmid to help us sort out some fundamental issues that we have to solve if we are going to be a successful company.
James Obern: Avertana's mission is to capture value from industrial waste and we need scientific expertise to help us bring that process to market. Working with MacDiarmid has given us access to capabilities that we wouldn't and couldn't hire because they are deeply specialised scientific experts.
Dr Andrew West: The great thing about MacDiarmid is its really helping underpin the high-value manufacturing sector, exactly the sort of sector that New Zealand needs.
Dr Ray Thompson: One of the really exciting things that the Investigators at MacDiarmid are working on is across this whole climate change area. Sequestering carbon dioxide, improving the efficiency of photovoltaic cells through to really advanced battery storage.
Associate Professor Nicola Gaston: If we want that future, a materially sustainable future, where everyone around the world can have clean water, personalised medicine, free electricity, we need materials technologies. In the MacDiarmid Institute we bring materials scientists together and we partner with industry to create intellectual property, jobs and wealth for New Zealand.