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First recipient of KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Fund Announced

Developer of ‘biological electronic nose’ sensor announced as first recipient of KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Fund

HAMILTON, NZ – 17 December 2015 - Dr Andrew Kralicek, a researcher at Plant & Food Research, has been named the first recipient of a $20,000 award from the KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Fund for his biosensor which acts like a powerful electronic nose. The fund was set up through a partnership between KiwiNet and Callaghan Innovation to help early career research scientists with a clever new idea and commercial interest to take it to market.

Dr Kralicek’s powerful biosensor technology is based on ground breaking research combining insect receptor proteins with novel man-made sensors to enable detection of target compounds in extremely small concentrations. Potential applications for the novel real-time detection technology include air quality monitoring, point-of-care medical diagnostics, food quality monitoring, security and agricultural pest/disease detection.

Dr Kralicek, Team Leader of the Molecular Sensing Team at Plant & Food Research says, “It’s a really exciting time in our research. The timing of the funding is perfect as it will allow us to create a prototype sensor for air quality monitoring to demonstrate to potential users of the technology.”

Harnessing the power of insect odorant receptor based sensors is a potential game changer in the world of electronic sensors according to Kralicek.

“Nature is still orders of magnitude ahead of the most advanced man-made electronic noses that are currently produced. Insect odorant receptors can detect a wide range of natural and synthetic chemicals even at very low levels. By combining purified insect receptor protein with specially made electronic sensors we will be able to detect parts-per-billion to parts-per-trillion concentrations of target volatile compounds such as hazardous pollutants in the environment.

“Once we have a working prototype we’re looking to develop both handheld formats as well as sensors that are housed in a casing in the environment that can wirelessly signal to an iPhone, for example,” he says.

Dr Kralicek will be working with leading New Zealand environmental monitoring company, Aeroqual Ltd, to develop the new generation of air quality monitoring sensors.

Geoff Henshaw, CTO Aeroqual Ltd says, “Aeroqual has received repeated market enquires for selective low cost sensing methods for air toxins. This research programme has the potential to generate new technologies that would disrupt the current landscape. This is of significant commercial interest to us.”

Dr Bram Smith, General Manager of KiwiNet says, “Andrew’s new technology could immediately create new sensor manufacturing opportunities by providing a solution for monitoring air quality and detecting emissions or gas leaks at industrial sites. Demonstrating compliance with air quality and emissions regulations is critical in some countries, and is a $200M pa industry.”

The KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Fund is available to early career researchers based at universities and Crown Research Institutes across New Zealand.

Dr Smith says, “The fund aims to power up some of New Zealand’s most talented early career scientists. It’s been a team effort with Callaghan Innovation providing the funding, Minter Ellison Rudd Watts providing in-kind expert legal support and KiwiNet recruiting a commercial mentor to support Andrew. This is an initiative KiwiNet will be growing over the next year to support more emerging innovators.”

Callaghan Innovation Group Manager Programmes Willem van der Steen, says the aim of the initiative fits with Callaghan Innovation’s mission to help business succeed through technology.

“The Emerging Innovator Fund will boost research and allow researchers to build prototypes of new solutions to industry problems.

“Callaghan Innovation works with a number of incubators and accelerators which foster innovation in emerging tech-driven businesses. Ideally, successful recipients of the Emerging Innovator Fund can go on to be considered for the appropriate incubator or accelerator programmes, to continue the commercial development of their research.”

Sue Muggleston, Intellectual Property Manager at Plant & Food Research, nominated Andrew for award. “As the champion of the biosensor research programme at Plant & Food, Andrew’s enthusiasm, ability to deliver results and willingness to work with industry made him a prime candidate for this funding. I’m delighted at his success.”


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