Our research

Our research

Our research - tā mātou rangahau

Diagram showing the branches of our research

Diagram showing the branches of our research - click image to see larger version

Bringing together materials science, physics, chemistry, biology, engineering and mātauranga Māori allows our investigators to make breakthroughs in the unchartered areas where these disciplines meet.

From printable solar panels and rare earth superconductors to handheld gene testers, intuitive stem cell therapy, and wearable UV detectors, our innovations have real world applications that will transform how we live.

Our research also offers the country economic value and provides uniquely exciting opportunities to educate the next generation of entrepreneurial scientists, along with the wider community.

Advanced materials

Advanced materials are simply better versions of traditional materials. They are more suited to the task they need to do, whether that is being better at conducting electricity or being more scratch-resistant or absorbing more solar energy.

At the MacDiarmid Institute, materials scientists work together to create new materials that advance technology and develop products that solve big problems and make our lives easier.


Nanotechnology is the study and application of extremely small things. Everything on Earth is made up of atoms - the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the buildings and houses we live in, and our own bodies. Nanotechnology gives us the ability to see and to control individual atoms and molecules. It is conducted at the nanoscale, which is about 1 to 100 nanometres. One nanometre is a billionth of a metre, or 10-9 of a metre. To put this in context, a sheet of newspaper is about 100,000 nanometres thick.

Our investigators are using nanotechnology to advance medical technology, stem cell research, energy efficiency and many other applications.

Research programmes

All our research is organised into four research programmes:

Our research programmes explore aspects of advanced materials science and nanotechnology and link researchers and students across biology, physics, materials science, mātauranga Māori, engineering and chemistry. 

Multidisciplinary collaboration is the most important factor in every research project undertaken at the MacDiarmid Institute. Projects are less about a lead researcher’s ‘pet interest’ and more about many people working together across disciplines to really make a difference. Such collaboration is the key to a science-based economy.

This team approach also offers a myriad of opportunities for the next generation of leading scientists and entrepreneurs to gain experience in unique research.

Vision Mātauranga

Vision Mātauranga: Unlocking the Innovation Potential of Māori Knowledge, Resources and People is a policy framework that was implemented into Vote Research, Science and Technology in July 2005. It was developed by the Ministry for Research, Science and Technology in consultation with research funders, researchers and research users including Māori communities.

The framework is designed to assist research funders, researchers and research users when they consider research of relevance to Māori – particularly its distinctive aspects – and how this might be supported through Vote Research, Science and Technology.

The MacDiarmid Institute is fortunate to have three Principal Investigators to guide us within the Vision Mātauranga framework:

You want your brain to hurt, to get out of your comfort zone. You attract people when you do things like this. You respond to sparks and generate your own sparks. We do the stuff no one else is doing.

Professor David Williams MacDiarmid Institute Principal Investigator University of Auckland

Towards Zero Waste - Reconfigurable Systems

Building on our highly interdisciplinary track-record in soft materials, we will reimagine the use and reuse of materials themselves - from taonga 3D printed from traditional Māori materials, to creating a form of artificial cells that self-regulate and reconfigure for different functions.

Read more about Towards Zero Waste - Reconfigurable Systems

Towards Zero Carbon - Catalytic Architectures

Our research will support New Zealand's goal for 'net zero' carbon emissions by 2050. We will explore new materials that will catch CO2 from air and waste streams. We'll also design new catalysts that will turn CO2 into green fuels.

Read more about Towards Zero Carbon - Catalytic Architectures

Towards Low Energy Tech - Hardware for Future Computing

The data centres worldwide that support our digital lifestyles use almost ten times as much electricity per year as the whole of NZ. We will develop computing materials that process information more like a brain, and that use far less energy than conventional electronics.

Read more about Towards Low Energy Tech - Hardware for Future Computing

Sustainable Resource Use - Mātauranga Māori Research Programme

Crosscutting these Research Programmes sits our Mātauranga Māori Research Programme. This programme provides a platform for the other research programmes, intersecting with the theme of sustainability.

Read more about Sustainable Resource Use - Mātauranga Māori Research Programme

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.