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Research Excellence Centres ‘Future Focused’

The Centres of Research Excellence (CoRE) announced today will push the frontiers of knowledge in key areas vital for New Zealand’s future.

Associate Education (Tertiary Education) Minister Steve Maharey announced today that five centres have been chosen to receive funding from the government’s new $60m CoRE fund. The centres were chosen from 45 original applicants, and a final 11-centre strong shortlist, by an independent selection panel established by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Steve Maharey visited researchers from the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution and The Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery today - two of the five successful centres. He said all five centres would make a major contribution to New Zealand’s future economic and social development.

“Research is fundamental to growing a more innovative New Zealand. The CoRE fund enables these five centres to expand our national knowledge base in key areas to boost economic, environmental and social development.

“The fund is a concrete example of the government’s active support for key drivers of economic and social transformation. The centres chosen by the Royal Society selection panel are very impressive:

- the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution will give us insights into how can live in harmony with our unique fauna and flora;

- the Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery offers exciting prospects for developing the biotechnology economy;

- Nga Pae o te Maramatanga (Horizons of Insight): The National Institute of Research Excellence for Maori Development and Advancement is the first ever Maori multi-site research centre and gives New Zealand the opportunity to make a real mark on the world-scene;

- the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology is led by a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and will underpin a key aspect of the Growing an Innovative New Zealand framework by developing materials for our biotechnology, ICT and creative industries; and,

- the New Zealand Institute of Mathematics and its Applications is led by a Fields medallist and provides a coherent focus for mathematics research.

“Taken together the centres bring together researchers from twelve tertiary institutions, Crown Research Institutes and other collaborators. Most of our universities and wananga are involved in a centre. This is particularly welcome given the Government’s policy of encouraging greater cooperation and collaboration across the tertiary education sector.

“Operating expenditure of $40.6 million over four years, and one-off capital funding of $20m for investment in strategic research assets this financial year, has been allocated to the centres. Funding for individual centres will be established following negotiations with The Royal Society.

“Like the Royal Society, the government was very impressed with the quality of the proposals short-listed by the Royal Society. I intend talking with Ministers during the 2002 Budget round to see how we might allocate additional resources for this initiative,” Steve Maharey said.

Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution

Host Institution: Massey University, Directors: Professors D. Penny,

and M. Hendy

Partners: University of Canterbury, University of Auckland, University of Otago, Victoria University of Wellington

The Allan Wilson Centre will undertake studies of the ecology and evolution of New Zealand plants, animals and micro-organisms. Recent research, using new techniques such as sequencing of whole genomes and the study of ancient DNA, has revolutionised our understanding of New Zealand’s biodiversity. The simplistic view that New Zealand is a “Moa’s Ark” of relic species undergoing “ancient and slow “ changes over long periods of time has been overturned by the information obtained with these new techniques. The Centre’s vision is to utilise the network of outstanding New Zealand biologists and mathematicians, who have made significant contributions to developing new analytical methods and techniques in this area, to address some of the fundamental questions about our plant and animal life. The Centre will enable a dramatic acceleration in the progress of our understanding of the processes underpinning the ecology and evolution of living systems. The knowledge gained will enable us to contribute internationally to an understanding of the nature of complex biological processes and fragile ecosystems.

Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery

Host Institution: University of Auckland, Director: Professor E. Baker,

The Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery comprises a cluster of five leading research groups at the University of Auckland with complementary expertise in science, engineering and medicine. The Centre will focus on the use of new technology for genomic discovery and on the innovative development of new medicines for infectious disease, diabetes and cancer, based on new findings in molecular biology.

Proteins are molecules that perform essential processes in organisms and affecting their function is useful in altering disease states. The structure of key proteins will be determined and used to design and develop new synthetic drugs as well as to enable the development of models that mimic how they function in cells. The Centre’s links with major pharmaceutical companies ensure the commercialisation of new discoveries and consequent economic benefits to New Zealand.

New Zealand Institute of Mathematics and its Applications

Host Institution: University of Auckland, Directors: Professors V. Jones and

M. Conder

Partner: New Zealand Mathematics Research Institute

The New Zealand Institute of Mathematics and its Applications will focus on the use of high-level mathematical and computational techniques to problems in medicine, biology, engineering, industry and commerce, with particular emphasis in areas of emerging importance such as bio-engineering, bio-informatics, medical statistics, optimisation and risk assessment. A key activity of the Institute will be the organisation and presentation of six-monthly programmes on themes of significant and contemporary importance such as mathematical biology and its applications. The rest of the science community will contribute suggestions for these themes. The Institute will accelerate the use of mathematics across the spectrum of science and engineering through its research programmes and intensive periods working on particular themes. In an increasingly complex world, the use of mathematical techniques to enhance good decision-making will provide New Zealanders with a competitive advantage.

Nga Pae o te Maramatanga (Horizons of Insight)

The National Institute of Research Excellence for Maori Development and Advancement

Host Institution: University of Auckland, Directors: Professor L. Smith, and Associate Professor M. Walker,

Partners: Te Whare Wananga O Awanuiarangi, Te Wananga O Aotearoa, Victoria University of Wellington, University of Otago, University of Waikato, Landcare Research

The National Institute of Research Excellence for Maori Development and Advancement will focus and build on Maori strengths in education, health and science. It plans to bring together Maori and western intellectual traditions and experience to generate new knowledge that will lead to new technologies and significantly improve socio-economic outcomes for Maori. It will achieve this by (1) drawing on Maori and mainstream knowledge and thought to raise standards of research; (2) improving uptake of research through engagement with Maori social structures; and (3) expanding and deepening both Maori and national research capability. The Institute’s planned research programme includes expanding current research activities in (1) new building materials for cheaper, warmer housing; (2) young people’s views of schooling and society; and (3) fundamental studies of the processes underlying diseases, such as diabetes, to which Maori are genetically predisposed.

The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology

Host Institution: Victoria University of Wellington,

Director: Professor P. Callaghan

Partners: University of Canterbury, Industrial Research Limited, Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences

The MacDiarmid Institute will be the centre for innovation and discovery in fundamental and applied materials science and technology in New Zealand. Strong international links coupled with a multi-disciplinary approach will enable the Institute to discover and understand new advanced materials and technologies to create new products, technologies and industries for New Zealand. Materials and technologies currently attracting world-wide attention that will be addressed by the Institute include: nano-engineered materials and devices, opto-electronics, superconductors, conducting polymers, functional materials and coatings, energy storage systems, soft materials, bio-materials and complex fluids.

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