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Centres of Research Excellence push boundaries


Centres of Research Excellence push boundaries of knowledge

A further two Centres of Research Excellence were announced today – bringing to seven the number of world-class research centres the government hopes will make a major contribution to New Zealand’s future economic and social development.

The National Centre for Advanced Bio-Protection Technologies (based at Lincoln University) and the National Centre for Growth and Development (based at the University of Auckland) were chosen from amongst six proposals by The Royal Society of New Zealand. The government set aside $27.9m over four years in operating funding and an initial $20m one-off allocation for capital expenditure in the May 2002 budget to fund the new centres, in addition to $9.4m in top up funding for the existing centres chosen in March. $40.6m over four years in operating expenditure and $20m in capital funding was also provided in 2001 budget for Centres of Research Excellence.

Associate Education (Tertiary Education) Minister Steve Maharey said the full complement of Centres of Research Excellence position New Zealand well to advance the frontiers of knowledge in key areas vital for our future.

“World-class research is fundamental to growing a more innovative, prosperous and socially-inclusive New Zealand. The government’s support for these seven centres demonstrates our commitment to actively support key drivers of economic and social transformation.

“The centres bring together researchers from tertiary institutions, Crown Research Institutes and other collaborators. We are a small country but by working together the Centres concept allows us to ‘bunch up’ resources and support research at the leading edge of the respective fields within the international research community.

“The Centres were chosen because they demonstrated their excellence in international terms. Growing a more innovative New Zealand requires exactly this kind of government-brokered partnership,” Steve Maharey said.

Capital funding for the new centres announced today is still the subject of negotiations with The Royal Society.

Contact: Michael Gibbs, Press Secretary, (04) 471 9154 or (021) 270 9115, e-mail: michael.gibbs@parliament.govt.nz.

Attached is a schedule and description of the seven Centres of Research Excellence.


Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution

Host Institution: Massey University, Directors: Professors D. Penny, (06) 350 5033 and M. Hendy (06) 350 7842 Partners: University of Canterbury, University of Auckland, University of Otago, Victoria University of Wellington Funding: three year operational funding of $6.87m and a one-off $5.357m capital grant.

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, (09) 373 7599 extn 4415 Funding: three year operational funding of $8.9m and a one-off $4.314m capital grant.

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.
The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology

Host Institution: Victoria University of Wellington,
Director: Professor P. Callaghan (04) 463 5945 Partners: University of Canterbury, Industrial Research Limited, Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences Funding: three year operational funding of $13.39m and a one-off $9.8m capital grant.

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.

National Centre for Advanced Bio-Protection Technologies

Host Institution: Lincoln University, Director: Professor Alison Stewart, (03) 325 2811 extn 8196 Partners: Massey University, New Zealand Crop and Food Research Ltd and AgResearch Ltd. Funding: three year operational funding of $8.142m.

This centre brings together a multidisciplinary group of researchers to meet the pest management and biosecurity needs of New Zealand. It aims to lead the world in biosecurity, developing state of the art sensor technologies, molecular identification systems and mathematical models to protect against pest and disease incursions. The Centre will also develop new generation biocontrol, superior crops with enhanced pesticide resistance. Another aim is to develop agricultural technologies that value and sustain matauranga and tikanga Maori. Centre members come from a wide range of disciplines including pest management, biotechnology, organics and Maori knowledge and tikanga. A unique feature of the Centre will be world’s third Biotron, a purpose-built facility that allows complex ecosystems to be modelled under precisely controlled environmental parameters.
National Centre for Growth and Development

Host Institution: The University of Auckland, Director: Professor Peter Gluckman, (09) 373 7999 extn 6476 Partners: Massey University, University of Otago, with contributions from AgResearch Ltd. Funding: three year operational funding of $12.509m.

The National Centre for Growth and Development will combine basic biomedical techniques with experimental and clinical physiology to develop new preventative and therapeutic approaches to human health and improve animal productivity in agriculture. This will boost New Zealand’s budding biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors. The centre’s research focuses on the early periods of life, such as the causes and consequences of low birth weight and prematurity. This focus also will see investigation into how genes and the environment interact to regulate growth, development and disease; how to prevent brain injury in newborn babies; and developmental biology therapies for neurological disease in adults. Another major commitment of the centre will be preparing scientists for the future by training students, especially Maori, and encouraging school students to consider a career in the biological sciences.

New Zealand Institute of Mathematics and its Applications

Host Institution: University of Auckland, Directors: Professors V. Jones and M. Conder (09) 373 7599 extn 8879 Partner: New Zealand Mathematics Research Institute Funding: three year operational funding of $4.855m and a one-off $113,970 capital grant.

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, (09) 373 7599 extn 2391, and Associate Professor M. Walker, (09) 373 7599 extn 2391 Partners: Te Whare Wananga O Awanuiarangi, Te Wananga O Aotearoa, Victoria University of Wellington, University of Otago, University of Waikato, Landcare Research Funding: three year operational funding of $11.38m and a one-off capital grant of $382,000.

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.

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