3 November, 2023
Congratulations to our long list of Marsden winners this year.
It's wonderful to see the talent being recognised with Fast-Start grants, and those at the next career stage with their first Standard grants, and especially great to see the strong thread of materials for sustainability running through this list.
The full details of MacDiarmid-affiliated Investigators and their projects is set out in the table below.
|Project name||Standard or Fast-Start||MI people involved|
|Applying safe-by-design approaches to develop alternatives to harmful forever chemicals||Standard||Erin Leitao*, Jack Chen|
|Capturing the fleeting: tracking photophysics in organic LED and laser materials with ultrafast photoluminescence spectroscopy||Standard||Kai Chen*, Paul Hume|
|Coming together for better or worse? How biomolecular interactions impact the self-assembly and properties of nucleoli-like condensates||Fast-Start||Amy Yewdall*|
|Hydrogen generation with sustainable resources – a combined molecular, computational and engineering approach||Standard||Keith Gordon*, James Crowley|
|Lithium sponges: in search of new battery electrode materials||Fast-Start||Joseph Nelson*|
|Merging ancient Roman knowledge and Te Ao Māori to create self-healing and sustainable concrete using natural materials||Fast-Start||Steven Matthews|
|Multiferroic solitons at room temperature: a new topological material system for low energy computation||Standard||Daniel Sando*, Simon Granville|
|Quest for flexible thermoelectric generators: modulation of material's crystal symmetry and anisotropy||Standard||John Kennedy|
|Shedding light on the present and the past; a novel environmental/ancient DNA capture system||Standard||Jadranka Travas-Sejdic|
|Structural control of liquid metals using solid supports||Fast-Start||Charlie Ruffman*, Krista Steenbergen|
|Surface wetting is critical: the role of liquid metals in on-demand hydrogen production||Fast-Start||Wen Zhang*|
|The development of effective, easily separable liquid catalysts||Standard||Cameron Weber*|
* indicates Principal Investigator on project
A couple of these grants are highlighted in the Royal Society press releases:
It's especially great to see the strong thread of materials for sustainability running through this list.Professor Justin Hodgkiss MacDiarmid Institute Co-Director
Multiferroic solitons at room temperature: a new topological material system for low energy computation
Dr Daniel Sando and Dr Simon Granville
Running our computers and phones is using up about 7% of all the electricity in the world, and this could increase to 20% by the year 2030. MacDiarmid Institute Investigators Dr Daniel Sando (University of Canterbury) and Dr Simon Granville (Robinson Research Institute) have been awarded $942,000 to research new nanoscale objects called solitons for low energy computing, aiming to develop new memory elements that could work 100x faster than current computer switches, and use 99% less energy.
Applying safe-by-design approaches to develop alternatives to harmful forever chemicals
Dr Erin Leitao and Dr Jack Chen
Back in the 1940s, scientists figured out how to make a special kind of chemical called PFAS (for 'Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances'). These chemicals are now used in all sorts of products, including contact lenses, food, foams used to put out fires, and even in non-stick pans that make sure your pancakes don't stick. There are now about 10,000 different kinds of these PFAS chemicals all over the world. They stick around in dirt, water, food, and even inside our bodies - they've been found in blood and even in breastmilk. Because they don't break down easily, people call them 'forever chemicals.' And these chemicals can be harmful, including for babies before they're born, and could even make it difficult for some people to have children.
MacDiarmid Institute Investigators Dr Erin Leitao (University of Auckland) and Dr Jack Chen (AUT) have received a Marsden grant of $941,000 to design molecules with similar properties to these PFAS chemicals, but which don’t contain the carbon-fluorine (C-F) bonds that make PFAS hard to break down. As part of this project, the researchers will experiment with trigger-activated bonds to enable the molecules to break down more easily, and then make and test the new molecules to check what happens to them in a controlled environment.
Hydrogen generation with sustainable resources – a combined molecular, computational and engineering approach
Professor Keith Gordon and Professor James Crowley
Hydrogen is an exceptional energy carrier that industry can utilise both as a raw material for manufacturing and for energy generation. But, making hydrogen the way most people do now uses a lot of energy and also creates carbon dioxide.
Scientists have found ways to use sunlight to make hydrogen, using bimetallic metal complexes (two metals bound together by a glue-like material) that help turn sunlight and water into hydrogen gas, which is then used as a clean fuel. But there's a catch – these are often made from fancy metals that are super expensive and not that easy to find.
In this project, MacDiarmid Institute researchers Professors Keith Gordon and James Crowley have received $941,000 to focus on new ways to create hydrogen with sunlight using metals that are more common and cheaper, like iron, cobalt, and copper. By changing the way we make the sunlight recipe, we can use these everyday metals to make hydrogen in a way that's better for everyone's wallet and the Earth.
Lithium sponges: in search of new battery electrode materials
Dr Joseph Nelson
To make even better batteries that last longer, work better, or are kinder to the environment, we need to find new materials. Until now, finding these materials has been a slow process, involving making and testing lots of different combinations in a lab.
In this project, MacDiarmid Institute researcher Dr Joseph Nelson (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Raukawa) of Lincoln Agritech has been awarded $360,000 to use new methods in high-performance computing and quantum mechanical simulations to quickly test large numbers of possible new materials, and create a catalogue of new materials that could used to design better lithium batteries in the future.
Merging ancient Roman knowledge and Te Ao Māori to create self-healing and sustainable concrete using natural materials
Dr Steven Matthews
The creation of concrete is pivotal to modern construction, providing a robust, versatile foundation for everything from towering skyscrapers to the humble pathways that connect our communities. But the way it is currently made, based on Portland cement, has a significant CO2 footprint (5%-8% of global greenhouse emissions).
In contrast, the concrete the Romans used had a small carbon footprint, and is considered to have self-healing properties, being able to fix its own cracks.
In this study led by led by his University of Auckland colleague Dr Enrique del Rey Castillo, MacDiarmid Institute researcher Dr Steven Matthews and the team will look at using pumice stone and ground-up seashells instead of some of the cement in concrete to make it more environmentally friendly. The Marsden grant awards them $360,000 to find out: 1) how the type of pumice and its tiny particles affect the concrete's ability to harden properly, 2) if they can use powdered seashell (either raw or heat-treated) as a substitute for cement, and 3) how well this new type of concrete performs, especially its ability to fix its own small cracks over time.
Structural control of liquid metals using solid supports
Dr Charlie Ruffman and Dr Krista Steenbergen
Metals which are liquid at room temperature can be useful in chemistry and electronics. These liquid metals can act as catalysts, as a medium for other reactions, and carry electricity. But because these metals are liquid, the atoms are constantly in motion, and the structure is chaotic and dynamic. This makes it tough for scientists to get the atoms to behave in the exactly the way we want and to make them do specific jobs.
MacDiarmid Institute researchers Dr Charlie Ruffman (University of Auckland) and Dr Krista Steenbergen (VUW) have been awarded $360,000 to use advanced computer programs to test lots of different support materials to find out the best way to control liquid metals. If they get this right, we'll be able to use these liquid metals for special tasks, like making useful reactions happen or in new kinds of electronics.
Quest for flexible thermoelectric generators: modulation of material's crystal symmetry and anisotropy
Dr John Kennedy
Imagine if your watch could charge itself by your body movement, or your clothing could generate power from sunlight. We don't currently have the right kind of flexible electronic materials that can be used on curved surfaces or that can bend and twist without breaking. This is a problem when we want to put them on things that are not flat, like parts of a car engine or human skin.
Flexible thermoelectric generators convert heat directly into electricity through the thermoelectric effect, which involves a temperature difference across the material. For example if movement generates heat (such as from friction or body heat) then this heat can be converted into electricity by a thermoelectric generator.
In this project led by his colleague his GNS Science colleague Dr Murmu, MacDiarmid Institute researcher Dr John Kennedy and others will look at the way atoms line up and bond with each other and help develop new materials with the right kind of weakness in their atomic bonds that makes them flexible. With the $944,000 Marsden award, the researchers plan to do this by figuring out how stretching the material affects the way atoms stick together inside it.
Capturing the fleeting: tracking photophysics in organic LED and laser materials with ultrafast photoluminescence spectroscopy
Dr Kai Chen and Dr Paul Hume
Organic LEDs are a specific type of LED that use organic semiconductor materials to emit light. These organic materials are carbon-based, which sets them apart from the inorganic materials used in traditional LEDs. Organic LEDs are particularly used in display technologies for smartphones, TVs, and computer monitors due to their ability to produce deeper blacks and a wider range of colours, and because they can be made thin and flexible.
The process of engineering these organic LEDs requires a deep knowledge of photophysics, most importantly, how the organic LEDs lose and redistribute energy. MacDiarmid Institute researchers based at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, Dr Kai Chen and Dr Paul Hume, have received a Marsden grant of $946,000 to use ultrafast photoluminescence (super-fast light measurements) to understand how these materials deal with light and energy in order to develop next-generation organic LEDs and laser materials.