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Interface Industry Challenge

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.