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Research to create new industries

Research to create new industries

Outstanding New Zealand research programmes that mix excellent science with commercial savvy have been allocated a total of $21.9m per annum from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

The 21 programmes, which have been funded as part of the New Economy Research Fund (NERF), involve basic research in emerging and new advanced manufacturing and materials technologies. They include the creation of niche markets in areas such as bioengineering, photonics, medical diagnostics and electrical superconductors.

The Foundation's Group Manager of Investment Operations, Peter Benfell, says the overall aim of the research is to create new enterprises and emerging industries for New Zealand.

"These research teams demonstrated the combination of characteristics we expect to see in NERF. These include strong scientific leadership; challenging, ambitious research; future-focused research to establish new enterprises and industries for New Zealand, and strong RS&T entrepreneurship."

And the Chair of the panel of experts that made the funding recommendations, Peter John, agrees that the applications were of a fine standard.

"The quality of applications was very high, with many comprising ambitious, innovative, exciting projects with the potential to make a substantial positive impact on New Zealand's manufacturing economy," says Peter John.

"The panel was particularly impressed with the quality of the young researchers interviewed during the application process. New Zealand's manufacturing-related research appears to be in good hands."

* New programme leader Dr Yong Yuan from Industrial Research Ltd will lead exciting research into medical diagnostic tests and the development of associated equipment. The Foundation will invest $2m over four years for research into a unique system that aims to allow 'bedside' medical diagnosis in a matter of minutes. The bond rupture scanning technology aims to deliver accurate and cost-effective point-of-care diagnosis of a wide variety of diseases based on the detection of indicator biomolecules. The system's analysis time is measured in minutes and will provide benefits for patients over traditional laboratory-based processing. Point-of-care is the fastest growing sector (8% p.a.) of the diagnostic market. IRL will provide the experience in electronics and sensing. This will be complemented by medical input from the Wellington School of Medicine and the expertise of Environmental Science and Research Ltd in relation to meningococcal disease.

* The University of Auckland's Bioengineering Institute is aiming to generate a new bioengineering industry in New Zealand surrounding the development of world-leading biomedical engineering modelling and instrumentation technology. The Foundation will invest $7.9m over six years to develop New Zealand-owned software, models and patent-protected IP, together with a flow of bioengineering trained graduate students to lead the new industry. The University will be using the NERF investment to create a platform of modelling and medical instrumentation in the musculo-skeletal area. Examples of potential economic opportunities based on this platform include orthotics and surgical training software, development of new tools for bone repair and use of models in monitoring bone density after joint replacement, and software for simulating human facial expression and speech applications in facial surgery.

* A research collaboration between the Applied Optics Centre of the University of Auckland and Southern Photonics Limited will receive $3.5m over four years to generate intellectual property (IP) in the field of photonics. This proposal is focused on basic research that will generate export generated growth, and aims to expand the company's range of innovative photonic devices. The first research goal is to develop IP that will result in new types of optical fibre amplifiers, lasers, and wavelength converters. This IP would interest significant markets in research laboratories, sensing technologies and industrial processing. The second area of research targets the fast-growing biophotonics sector. The programme seeks to develop technology for novel sensors using optical fibres inserted into human tissue. These sensors would have a wide variety of laboratory and diagnostic applications. This IP would be commercialised via Southern Photonics Ltd, or by licensing agreements with New Zealand electronics companies.

* Industrial Research Limited is aiming to create a new manufacturing sector for New Zealand, with projected revenue of $300m by 2015. The research leaders will receive $8m over four years from the Foundation to support the creation of a High Temperature Superconductor (HTS) export sector. New Zealand Trade and Enterprise will be working with the researchers to implement a project road map to achieve this.

The programme will include the establishment of a large scale HTS manufacturing plant in New Zealand as well as a spin out company to exclusively license IP generated from the programme.

HTS conductors have 100 times the power density of copper conductors and will supplant them in many power applications such as transformers, generators and motors.

In addition, HTS machines are smaller, lighter, and more energy efficient than copper-based equivalents. The research involves collaborations with the University of Canterbury and the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences Ltd, as well as various international organisations.

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