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UC announces multi-million dollar research

UC announces multi-million dollar research investment

Helping people with Alzheimers Disease, Parkinsons Disease and Downs Syndrome to communicate better; and finding new ways to combat diseases such as tuberculosis and provide early diagnosis of flu pandemics are some of the aims of two new multi-million dollar research institutes announced today by the University of Canterbury.

The University is making the multi-million dollar, multi-year investment to raise its international profile and allow it to become widely known as a world-class institution.

The new institutes, which have been selected through a contestable process, are The New Zealand Institute of Language, Brain and Behaviour; and The Biomolecular Interaction Centre.

The New Zealand Institute of Language, Brain and Behaviour will be a multidisciplinary centre dedicated to the study of human language. Its researchers will cover fields such as linguistics, speech production and perception, language acquisition, language disorders, special cognition, memory, brain imaging, cognitive science, bilingual education and interface technologies.

Its Director, Associate Professor Jennifer Hay, says researchers will study how language is learned and used from birth through to late in life.  One important aspect of the institute's work will involve the creation and analysis of large archives of audiovisual recordings of New Zealanders interacting.  These recordings will cover speakers of a wide range of ages (including infants), and will include some speakers who are bilingual in English and Maori.

"One of our initial projects will look at whether bilingual speakers use different patterns of non-verbal behaviour, such as gesture and facial expression, when they are speaking Maori than when they are speaking English."

Professor Hay says that the institute hopes to make breakthroughs which facilitate early diagnosis and effective treatment of a wide range of language disorders.  She also says that the work is likely to impact the development of technologies “as we move rapidly toward an age of interacting with computers and mobile devices via speech rather than keyboards”.

The Biomolecular Interaction Centre researches molecular interactions critical to biological function. Understanding  biomolecular interactions is central to a range of fundamental sciences, new treatments for disease, and a wide range of highly functional products.

The Institute is Co-Directed by Professors Juliet Gerrard and Conan Fee and involves researchers from the Colleges of Science and Engineering, as well as Education and Arts.

Professor Gerrard says researchers will focus on exciting projects at the interface of different disciplines.  The emphasis is on fundamental science and engineering, but strong collaborations with several Crown Research Institutes and local universities will enable applications to be explored and maximise the chances of benefit being captured for New Zealand.

"We are very excited to have been given the opportunity to expand our research efforts and create a new Institute at UC. Biomolecular interactions are the key to fathoming out all the processes that go on inside living things; understanding them will lead to new discoveries; and capturing this understanding will lead to innovative new products and processes.

"The research we are doing uses state-of-the-art tools to answer questions about the molecules of life.  We aim to harness our new knowledge in a diverse range of applications, from improved food to new approaches to drug design; from new diagnostics to novel materials."

The Institutes, which will be research-driven and not dependent on commercial activities, will be centrally funded by the University for no less than three years during their establishment phases. Their budgets will be in the region of $1million per annum each with an additional $250,000 in the first year for equipment and set-up costs.

Each Institute will be supported by a UC College with a reporting line jointly to the relevant Pro-Vice-Chancellor and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor. The Director will hold a UC academic post at the appropriate rank based on normal UC policies for appointment.

A call for further applications will be made during 2010 if there is sufficient funding available.


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