$48 million for MacDiarmid Institute

The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology has received a resounding vote of confidence for the quality and focus of its research with its fourth consecutive government designation as a Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE).

The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology has received a resounding vote of confidence for the quality and focus of its research with its fourth consecutive government designation as a Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE).

MacDiarmid Institute co-directors Professor Justin Hodgkiss and Associate Professor Nicola Gaston standing in front of Institute signage
MacDiarmid Institute co-directors Professor Justin Hodgkiss and Associate Professor Nicola Gaston.

The Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington-hosted Institute’s selection by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) in the 2019/20 CoRE round means it will receive $48 million over seven-and-a-half years from July 2021–December 2028.

It is rare for CoREs to be offered such long-term support and the MacDiarmid Institute’s selection ensures financial security as it seeks to ignite the discoveries and forge the leaders that will reshape a sustainable, inclusive, high-wage, zero-carbon economy for the country.

MacDiarmid Institute co-directors Professor Justin Hodgkiss, from Te Herenga Waka -Victoria University of Wellington, and Associate Professor Nicola Gaston, from the University of Auckland, say the focus on sustainability is fertile ground for discovery and future enterprise where the Institute can make a global impact and meaningfully address some of the major issues of our time.

This includes:

  • Building on the Institute’s international leadership in both porous and photo- or electro-active materials to create new classes of materials that soak up carbon dioxide and convert it to valuable products—closing the carbon cycle
  • Building on the Institute’s world-leading intellectual property in nanomaterial electronics and spintronics to develop materials that think like a brain, thereby shifting computation—whose carbon footprint surpasses air travel—towards a low-energy future while increasing the power to solve hard problems
  • Building on the Institute’s highly interdisciplinary track record in soft materials to 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.

The MacDiarmid Institute is a partnership of seven institutions across New Zealand: five universities (Wellington, Auckland, Massey, Canterbury and Otago), along with government innovation agency Callaghan Innovation and GNS Science.

It was founded in 2002 by the late Professor Sir Paul Callaghan during his time at Wellington’s University.

“The recipe was simple,” says Professor Hodgkiss. “Bring together the best teams in advanced materials and nanotechnology. Then expand their horizons beyond the lab bench, into the community, and into the tech industry.

“Why materials science? Materials science is about arranging atoms and molecules to create something with new properties. It could be a printed solar cell, a superconducting magnet for electric planes, or a biosensor.”

Eighteen years later, says Associate Professor Gaston, “the Institute is creating more spinouts each year than the last—19 so far—our graduates are critical to New Zealand’s expanding high-tech work force, and academically we consistently rank alongside entire New Zealand universities in the Nature index for publication impact.

“Materials science is inherently concerned with issues of sustainability—both in the design of materials for energy generation and conservation and in considering the sustainability of materials themselves, including how we make and recycle them. We are excited to be being supported to make a difference for Aotearoa New Zealand over the next seven-and-a-half years on some of the biggest challenges of our society.”

Vice-Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford says the University is proud to host the MacDiarmid Institute and to have provided an environment that fosters a shared commitment to ambitious, broad, interdisciplinary research, to mātauranga Māori research, and to sustainability and tackling climate change.

“The Institute is an important contributor to our position as New Zealand’s number one university for intensity of high-quality research, with all the benefits that brings to our students and to the social, environmental, economic and cultural wellbeing of New Zealand and the world beyond.

“This renewal of the Institute’s CoRE status and the accompanying $48 million will enable these talented researchers to continue their world-leading and world-changing work.”

Professor Hodgkiss says the MacDiarmid Institute is particularly pleased the referees who assessed the Institute for the TEC “didn’t only attest to the ambition, quality and relevance of our research programme, or that it is a ‘recipe for collaboration’, they also recognised the Institute is now making the wider impact Sir Paul always imagined. And the best is yet to come”.