Our partnerships


To benefit New Zealanders and the economy, our investigators partner with industry to address specific technological and scientific challenges. This enhances products and services and boosts business. Our focus is increasingly on providing sustainable technology solutions.

The Interface challenge

Greg Olsen, R&D Manager, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare

Greg Olsen, R&D Manager, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare

One of our business-focused programmes is ‘Interface’, an industry problem-solving challenge we launched in partnership with another CoRE, the Dodd-Walls Centre.

We invite high-tech New Zealand companies to challenge our scientists with the tough technological problems they face – things they can’t solve on their own. We then match these problems with scientists and students from Centres of Research Excellence (CoREs).

The companies tap into top research minds and the pipeline of talented PhD graduates. The scientists are stimulated by the challenge and contribute to New Zealand industry while forging R&D career paths for their graduates.

Seed projects from Interface are now delivering value to New Zealand industry with new intellectual property and product development opportunities.

By working and workshopping with MacDiarmid researchers, we have identified a variety of project opportunities. We are moving towards a collaboration where the deep science at our New Zealand universities can be applied to a range of market-ready products.

Greg Olsen R&D Manager Fisher & Paykel Healthcare

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

Video transcript

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.

Below is a snapshot of some of the companies involved and the problems we are helping solve.


Avertana is a highly innovative company whose mission is to extract commodity materials from industrial waste. Avertana is really excited about accessing the deep expertise and capability in the MacDiarmid Institute that a small company could not simply hire to solve every problem that came along.

Working with the MacDiarmid Institute has given us access to capability we wouldn’t and couldn’t hire because they’re deeply specialised scientific experts.

James Obern Commercial Director Avertana


Aquafortus is an early-stage start-up that has developed a material for wastewater treatment that operates with unprecedented energy efficiency. Aquafortus came to us to interrogate the chemical nature of the active components, which is critical to developing the treatment further. The tools to do this are simply not affordable for an early-stage start-up, but accessing them through the MacDiarmid Institute has been transformative.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare is one of New Zealand’s biggest high-tech manufacturers. To maintain this position, it is constantly innovating in areas that include new materials. As well as benefitting from the deep materials capability in the MacDiarmid Institute, it is also attracted by the possibility of connecting with top graduates.


Lanaco makes air filters from New Zealand wool fibres. They run a broad science programme aimed at improving the performance and manufacturability of the air filters. Their collaboration with the MacDiarmid Institute pulls in a range of physics, chemistry and engineering expertise from all around the country.

MacDiarmid is really helping underpin the high-value manufacturing sector.

Dr Andrew West Chair, Aquafortus and Chair, Lanaco

Mint Innovation

Mint Innovation uses bio-based techniques to recover metals from electronic waste and mining residues. The MacDiarmid Institute was able to help the company with a complex technical problem.

We came across the MacDiarmid Institute’s ‘Interface’ programme by word-of-mouth from other participants earlier this year. We had identified business opportunities which required technical assessment, and we were delighted when the MacDiarmid Institute quickly identified and funded a recent graduate, Dr Seong Nam, to work on this project for several weeks as a Research Assistant.

Dr Will Barker CEO Mint Innovation Ltd

Other industry partners

In addition to the Interface challenge, we have developed many other partnerships with New Zealand businesses to give them access to some of the best scientific minds in the country.

One example is the ongoing work we are doing with the dairy industry.

Dairy industry

MacDiarmid Institute researchers are investigating surface interactions to solve problems and improve efficiency in milk powder production. University of Auckland physicist and Principal Investigator Dr Geoff Wilmott is working with the diary industry, including equipment manufacturers and producers, to explore how to scale up the research.

Currently, milk powder is produced when heated milk is sprayed into the top of large spray dryers (silos up to 20 storeys high). Milk droplets can stick to the side of the silo, causing fouling, and incurring losses due to cleaning costs and production downtime. Scientists are using microfabrication and high-speed photography to understand the types of surfaces currently used in milk powder production, how best to tweak them, and what spray settings are ideal. The aim is to reduce the amount of droplets sticking to the silo sides therefore reducing fouling and associated costs.

The research has major beneficial possibilities for our biggest export industry.

More information on microfabrication: Annual Report 2017 - page 28

With all the collaborations - we learn from each other - this is what enables us to do high-quality fundamental research.

Dr Geoff Willmott MacDiarmid Institute Principal Investigator Deputy Director Commercialisation and Industry Engagement University of Auckland