Out of the lab » The MacDiarmid Institute
Out of the lab

What we do

Out of the lab

Electrical connections on a nano chipOur materials science and nanotechnology research starts in the laboratory and always generates valuable knowledge regardless of the findings. However our ultimate aim is to create something that can be used to meet a need in the real world. We are especially focused on applications that will help our transition to a more sustainable way of life.

Since our inception in 2002, our scientists and their collaborators have developed many exciting innovations. Some have been patented, some are being field-tested stage and others have gone on to be produced and marketed.

Developments underway include printable solar panels, bioplastics, aluminium batteries, handheld gene testers and novel superconductors. And this is just the start. Our aim is that the research we undertake today will continue to help people and the planet for decades to come.

We want to help transform society for good.

The whakataukī that best captures our purpose is: ahakoa he iti, he pounamu. We invest in the development of fundamental knowledge, and so enable ourselves and others to be smart about what resources we use to make the materials needed for technology development. It’s about minimising the material impact we make on the world.

Associate Professor Nicola Gaston MacDiarmid Institute Principal Investigator Co-director of the MacDiarmid Institute University of Auckland

Beyond lithium

MacDiarmid Institute researchers have developed an aluminium battery, which has the potential to be a far more environmentally sustainable alternative to current lithium batteries.

Read more about Beyond lithium

Biomaterials as surgical tools

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

Cancer cell triggers

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

Read more about Cancer cell triggers

Cleaning up

A new type of denitrification process offers a solution to the nitrate pollution in many of our precious waterways.

Read more about Cleaning up

Diagnoses made easy

When it comes to diagnostic tools, it turns out that environmental scientists and medical specialists want the same thing - clean, data rich samples and the technology to analyse those samples quickly and accurately.

Read more about Diagnoses made easy

Electric dreams

Neuromorphic computing uses tiny circuits to mimic the operation of the human brain. This new approach might see computers learning from experience, much like we do.

Read more about Electric dreams

Fighting forest-killing fungi

Kauri dieback disease and myrtle rust are threatening New Zealand forests and horticulture industry. Our researchers are studying the pathogens that cause these diseases.

Read more about Fighting forest-killing fungi

Plastic fantastic

A bioplastic made from corn could be the answer to our ubiquitous plastic problem.

Read more about Plastic fantastic

Quantum leap to qubits

The binary system allows us to store and process complex data as strings of ones and zeros, or ‘bits’. Quantum computers could revolutionise this system.

Read more about Quantum leap to qubits

Sensing the future

Research into changing the surface properties of metal-oxide semi-conductors has a myriad of real world applications such as smartphone blood testers and wearable UV sensors.

Read more about Sensing the future

Storing and saving what is precious

New metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) are a potential answer to both storing energy and absorbing carbon dioxide.

Read more about Storing and saving what is precious

Taking the heat off data

Global data centres are responsible for three percent of global electricity use, mainly to cool down their massive computer systems. Two MacDiarmid Institute teams are researching solutions to the wasted energy use.

Read more about Taking the heat off data

The solar panel revolution

Imagine flexible, bendy solar panels, supple enough to skim a curved roof, pliable enough to be rolled up and transported easily, lightweight enough to be a thin film for the roof of a tent, and portable enough to be rolled out to generate power for emergency relief operations or taken into remote areas.

Read more about The solar panel revolution

Virtual white dwarf stars

Ever-improving computational techniques and hardware means computer modelling allows us to answer some big materials questions. Our researchers can virtually reproduce conditions unachievable in a lab, such as the magnetic forces inside a white dwarf star.

Read more about Virtual white dwarf stars

Where this all fits in

These research projects are just some of the many projects that MacDiarmid Institute collaborators are working on throughout the country. Each project falls under one of three research themes that contribute to transforming our future for good:

What is materials science

MacDiarmid Institute investigators discuss how materials science and nanotechnology can solve the big problems of our time.

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: 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.