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Otago to host Centres of Research Excellence

Thursday 8 May 2014

Otago to host Centres of Research Excellence

The University of Otago will host a new Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE) and will also co-host another new CoRE, following a Government announcement today.

Otago has been chosen to host the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies, with Associate Professor David Hutchinson, from the Department of Physics as director, and it will co-host Brain Research New Zealand - Rangahau Roro Aotearoa with the University of Auckland. Professor Cliff Abraham from the Department of Psychology will be in a co-director role with Distinguished Professor Richard Faull from Auckland University.

Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne has welcomed the announcement saying the new CoREs, and Otago's involvement in existing centres, are a clear indication of the University's research standing.

“Otago has many research strengths in a diverse range of fields and this strength has been underscored by the CoRE announcement,” she says.

“What is particularly exciting is that we have been entrusted with key leadership roles in two very different areas - photonics and quantum science and brain health. Both of these CoREs will bring us into closer working relationships with other New Zealand universities and research institutes and the sharing of ideas and energy across the sector will be of great benefit to the country.”

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) Professor Richard Blaikie says Otago's involvement in these Centres will provide a definite boost to research at the University.

“These CoREs are an exciting opportunity to develop and build on our existing collaborations. That will also allow us to develop our own research capacity as well as nurture the next generation of scientists.

“They involve groundbreaking areas of science which provide scope not only for studies that generate fundamental knowledge, but also translational research that is of wider benefit to our economy and society and that enhances New Zealanders’ health and well-being.”

Professor Blaikie says it is also important to note that, as well as the hosting and directing roles, Otago researchers are playing a vital part as collaborators and co-researchers for several of the Centres hosted by other institutions.

Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies

Otago is to host the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies, one of the new CoREs announced by the Minister. It will be directed by Associate Professor David Hutchinson, a theoretical physicist from the Department of Physics, who says it will be a world-class collaborative research network building on New Zealand’s internationally acknowledged strength in the fields of quantum optics, photonics and precision atomic physics.

“The Centre’s research centres around photonics, the manipulation of light at the most fundamental, quantum level, and the control and manipulation of matter at the atomic scale, through the use of light,” Associate Professor Hutchinson says.

As well as intrinsic interest, this work has the potential to underpin advanced technological development.

“This may, for example, include the creation of advanced sensing technologies (such as precision gravitometers based on ultracold atoms), trace gas sensors, and development of advanced medical imaging, with further sensing applications in the areas of food safety or even sperm sorting for sex in artificial insemination for the dairy industry,” he says.

“Our aim is to undertake cutting-edge translational research. This research has potential real-world application in the nearer term - as well as generating fundamental knowledge about how the physical universe is composed and behaves.

“Alongside this research focus the Centre will educate and mentor highly skilled individuals for New Zealand’s high-value-added technological future and also provide pathways for commercialisation of research and career development for these individuals,” he says.

Before becoming a CoRE, the Dodd-Walls Centre has existed as a collaboration between Otago and the University of Auckland in which a core of leading researchers have been working together for seven years now. It is named after two of New Zealand's pioneering researchers in quantum physics, Professors Jack Dodd and Dan Walls.

Assoicate Professor Hutchinson says becoming a CoRE heralds a complete change for the new Dodd-Walls Centre.

“Firstly, the organisation is much larger, encompassing researchers from five of New Zealand’s universities. More importantly, we can now develop the work performed by excellent individuals, with project-based funding such as Marsden, into a coherent whole which can have real national and international impact.”

Brain Research New Zealand - Rangahau Roro Aotearoa

A new CoRE focusing on brain health and disease is to be co-hosted by the University of Otago and the University of Auckland under the leadership of co-directors Professor Cliff Abraham (Otago) and Professor Richard Faull (Auckland).

A key focus of Brain Research New Zealand - Rangahau Roro Aotearoa is to unlock the secrets of the ageing brain and develop new therapies and better clinical and community care to enhance lifelong brain health for all New Zealanders.

The CoRE forms a national partnership between the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland, the Brain Health Research Centre at the University of Otago, AUT University and the NZ Brain Research Institute in Christchurch. It therefore harnesses the strength of the nation’s world-leading scientific and clinical expertise in the ageing brain.

Professors Abraham and Faull say that like all developed nations, New Zealand has an ageing population and a rapidly increasing number of people with ageing-related brain disorders such as stroke, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases.

“By 2036 one in four New Zealanders aged over 65 will be affected by an ageing-related brain disorder. These disorders can result in profound and long-term impairment and place huge physical and emotional strains on individuals, family, and whanau.

“The mission of Brain Research New Zealand is for our scientists, clinicians and the community to work together to unlock the secrets of the ageing brain so that we can develop new therapies and better clinical and community care to enhance lifelong brain health,” say Professors Abraham and Faull.

“The vision of this CoRE is to enable people to age well with a healthy brain. Developing a truly national, collaborative response to this issue is of critical importance,” they say.

Direct costs associated with these disorders are estimated to be over $1 billion per year, and rising by over 5% per year.

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