Functional Nanostructures

Our research

Functional Nanostructures

Big, brave ideas inspired by biology

Imagine what you could create by combining the natural genius of biology with the latest advances in technology? Think of nature-inspired nanobots seeking out and destroying disease, bone implants that grow themselves, intuitive stem cell therapy, and handheld sensors that can instantly diagnose cancer.

Overview

Functional nanostructures are both inspired by biology and made using biological tools. In this research theme our Investigators use nanotools to examine processes that naturally occur in cells and take them outside the cell to use in a completely different context. In turn, materials are used to probe and influence biology.

Our research objectives

Objective 1: Synthesis and assembly

The first objective, which we achieved in the first three years of this programme, was about making basic functional units then assembling these into multi-functional products. We created new molecules with novel magnetic, electrical or optical properties.

Objective 2: Tools for the nanoscale

The second objective is developing innovative nanotools to better understand, manipulate and control these new functional nanostructured materials. The nanotools allow us to get more information about their behaviour and function on the nanoscale, so we can determine their relevance, for example, for stem cell therapies and cancer diagnoses.

The inspiration comes from biology. Nowhere is the power of self assembly, and the properties that emerge from this self assembly, more prominent than in biology.

Professor Bill Williams MacDiarmid Institute Principal Investigator Science Leader for Functional Nanostructures Massey University
bio 34 ARGS2 e1416357694148

Our projects

Below is an introduction to some of the projects we are working on within this research theme.

Improved health diagnoses and treatment

We are working on a number of projects aimed at improving health outcomes. We have developed a non-toxic nanomaterial to improve MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Its magnetic and fluorescent properties may make it possible to analyse cancerous cells, increasing the likelihood of an earlier diagnosis.

We are also exploring the use of exosomes, which are tiny particles produced by most cells in our bodies. These particles are vital communication tools and could be used to carry molecules across the blood-brain barrier - a kind of biocamouflage drug delivery. This could give us a new route to diagnosing and treating a range of diseases.

In addition we are developing a new class of biosensors made from novel polymers that can conduct electricity. We’re using these biosensors for DNA diagnostics, an important tool in identifying infectious diseases, genetic mutations, or inherited metabolic disorders.

Nanosensing

One project in this area is the development of ultrasensitive analytical devices for real-time detection of the drug methamphetamine, such as for roadside testing. The devices use precisely-designed DNA aptamers, also known as synthetic antibodies, to rapidly recognise methamphetamine molecules from small, easy-to-take samples. Our new devices use nanotechnology to tackle these issues, reducing the cost of tests, and making them faster and more reliable.

Sally Brooker - environmentally-friendly plastics

Professor Sally Brooker of the MacDiarmid Institute and the Universtiy of Otago is using metal catalysts to develop cheap, envoronmentally-friendly plastics for use in a host of applications.

SAVVY Express: Science Media Centre - MacDiarmid Institute

February 23, 2015

More information

If you want to find out more, visit the following sections of our site:

Out of the Lab

Since the MacDiarmid Institute of Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology opened in 2002, our scientists and their collaborators have developed many exciting innovations to aid our transition to a more sustainable lifestyle. Some have been patented, some are in the field-testing stage and others have gone on to be produced and marketed.

READ MORE

Into the Marketplace

The aim of materials science and nanotechnology research at the MacDiarmid Institute is to positively transform people's lives and to benefit New Zealand. We partner with existing businesses to solve their materials science problems and take our innovations into the marketplace

READ MORE

Principal Investigators

Associate Investigators

New Zealand needs to focus on making things that are relatively specialised. We need to make fewer very sophisticated things with greater individual value.

Professor Roger Reeves MacDiarmid Institute Emeritus Investigator University of Canterbury

In the news

When physics meets biochemistry - Annual Report 2018

Annual Report

When physics meets biochemistry - Annual Report 2018

April 8, 2019

Could bio-inspired self-assembled magnetic structures make computers more efficient?

Read more about When physics meets biochemistry - Annual Report 2018

Feeling the force of fungi to stop it killing our forests - Annual Report 2018

Annual Report

Feeling the force of fungi to stop it killing our forests - Annual Report 2018

April 8, 2019

In 2018 the government announced a $13million funding boost for research to combat the spread of kauri dieback and myrtle rust. Could microfluidics be the solutions we are looking for?

Read more about Feeling the force of fungi to stop it killing our forests - Annual Report 2018

Biomaterials as surgical tools - Annual Report 2018

Annual Report

Biomaterials as surgical tools - Annual Report 2018

April 8, 2019

More than 250 corneal transplants are performed each year but the number is limited to donor numbers and there are not enough. Synthetic or naturally derived surgical substrates offer a solution.

Read more about Biomaterials as surgical tools - Annual Report 2018

Virtual materials - Annual Report 2018

Annual Report

Virtual materials - Annual Report 2018

April 8, 2019

Our researchers use computers to reproduce conditions unachievable in a lab, such as the magnetic forces inside a white dwarf star.

Read more about Virtual materials - Annual Report 2018

Examining the nano-environment between cancer cells - Annual Report 2018

Annual Report

Examining the nano-environment between cancer cells - Annual Report 2018

April 8, 2019

Research into micro-environmental conditions within and between cells might ultimately result in tailored cancer medications.

Read more about Examining the nano-environment between cancer cells - Annual Report 2018

Videos

2017 Lecture Series: Women in nanoscience

February 16, 2019

In the 2017 MacDiarmid Institute Regional Lecture Series: Women in nanoscience, three female MacDiarmid Institute nanoscientists tell their personal stories of life in science. Professors Penny Brothers and Cather Simpson, and Dr Michelle Dickinson (aka Nanogirl) give their own perspectives on what it is like being a woman in the physical sciences (physics, chemistry or engineering).

Read more 2017 Lecture Series: Women in nanoscience

Bill Williams - the machinery of DNA

March 21, 2019

Professor Bill Williams of the MacDiarmid Institute and Massey University explores how better understanding biological problems from a physical point of view can help us come up with better treatments.

SAVVY Express: Science Media Centre - MacDiarmid Institute

Read more Bill Williams - the machinery of DNA

Geoff Wilmott - attracting and repelling water

March 21, 2019

From fog harvesters to self-cleaning surfaces, Dr Geoff Wilmott of the MacDiarmid Institute and the University of Auckland is looking at how water is both repelled by and attracted to surfaces with a range of possible applications.

SAVVY Express: Science Media Centre - MacDiarmid Institute

Read more Geoff Wilmott - attracting and repelling water

MacDiarmid Institute alumna Dr Rebecca Hawke: an exciting career in science

February 25, 2019

Physicist and MacDiarmid Institute alumna Dr Rebecca Hawke discusses her exciting career in science. 

This video includes captions.

Read more MacDiarmid Institute alumna Dr Rebecca Hawke: an exciting career in science

Nature of Science - Bill Williams

March 21, 2019

Professor Bill Williams of the MacDiarmid Institute and Massey University talks about his job as a scientist and why he loves it.

Working with biophysics and soft materials, Bill describes himself as an experimental scientist who looks at how we perceive the world and works to find ways to test these perceptions. Bill is a scientist because he is fascinated by the world around him and wants to continue to figure out how the world works.

Read more Nature of Science - Bill Williams

Podcasts

Jenny Malmström on RadioNZ

Jenny Malmström on RadioNZ

May 9, 2019

Associate Investigator Jenny Malmström talks to RadioNZ about stem cells, implants and materials science.

Read more about Jenny Malmström on RadioNZ