School of Chemical and Physical Sciences

2013 News

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Victoria researchers to play significant role in global science project

26 November 2013

Astronomy and Astrophysics Group

Victoria University of Wellington researchers are poised to make a significant contribution to one of the world’s largest science projects - the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope.

In an announcement today by Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce, Victoria University was named as one of two New Zealand research groups which will lead two work areas in the pre-construction of the multi-billion dollar SKA telescope. Auckland University of Technology is the other institution contributing to the research.

It is anticipated that, once operational, the SKA telescope will be the world’s largest, most sensitive radio telescope, capable of revealing new information about the origins and history of the universe.

Victoria University's Dr Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, a senior lecturer in Astrophysics from the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, will lead a team of researchers which will contribute towards the Science Data Processor work package, working alongside other New Zealand and international experts.

Other members from the Victoria University team include Dr Christopher Hollitt and Dr Marcus Frean from the School of Engineering and Computer Science, as well as Postdoctoral fellows, PhD, Master’s and Honours students.

"The SKA project has now reached the detailed design phase, which involves groups across the world investigating how best to design the telescope," says Dr Johnston-Hollitt.

"One of the greatest challenges associated with the SKA project is the 'big data challenge' and how we can maximise the scientific return from the vast amount of data generated.

"We’ll be working with our partners from across New Zealand to lead the work concerned with how to best extract information from data captured by the SKA, and determine the computation requirements needed to process it," she says.

Professor Mike Wilson, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University’s Faculty of Science, is delighted the University’s expertise is continuing to contribute towards the development of the SKA project.

"The SKA radio telescope is currently one of the largest international science and engineering projects, and an exciting one for Victoria’s astrophysicists to be engaged in.

"Victoria’s involvement builds on the University’s track record in radio astronomy, algorithm development and large-scale computing, and will help build New Zealand’s position as a leader in software development and data analysis," he says.

Dr Johnston-Hollitt has played a significant role in the global effort to develop cutting-edge radio telescopes. She is the New Zealand scientific representative to the SKA Board of Directors, and a primary investigator on the precursor Murchison Widefield Array radio telescope project in Western Australia, which became fully operational earlier this year. 

For more information about the Astronomy and Astrophysics group, please visit their homepage.

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Big results from tiny particles

26 November 2013

Nanoparticle and Quantum Dot Research Group

Creating and manipulating particles made of just a few atoms is all in a day’s work for Dr Richard Tilley. Richard, an Associate Professor in Victoria's School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, leads the School’s nanoparticle and quantum dot research group.

Detecting and treating cancer tumours, finding sustainable energy solutions and creating new products for use in the pharmaceutical and automotive industries are just some of the applications the group is focusing on.

Since his arrival in 2003, Richard, who is also a principal investigator at the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, has propelled Victoria’s nanoparticle research capability to the forefront of international efforts.

His research group is one of only a few in the world that can create nanoparticles of different sizes and shapes. Its work is supported by large public grants, and its findings are regularly published in the world’s top chemistry and nanotechnology research journals.

The group includes Master’s, PhD and postdoctoral researchers, collaborators from the MacDiarmid Institute, other New Zealand universities and research institutes, and a number of prestigious international researchers.

Nanoparticles are attracting worldwide scientific interest because of their potential applications, particularly in the fields of biomedical research and industrial processes.

Richard’s group uses solution phase chemistry techniques that involve growing small crystals in a liquid solution, then adding what are essentially soap molecules. These bind to the particle surfaces with different strengths. The researchers then carefully manipulate the size and shape, creating thousands of visually striking nanoparticles that react in new ways.

One area of success for the group is producing highly magnetic nanoparticles for use in biotechnology applications, such as detecting cancer tissue.

Together with Professor Ian Hermans from the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, Dr Peter Ferguson at Wellington Public Hospital and researchers from the MacDiarmid Institute and Callaghan Innovation, the team developed a new form of iron metal nanoparticles that don’t rust.

The particles can be used as a contrast agent in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, highlighting the body’s internal structures and diagnosing health problems."As a result we have been able to improve performance by 100 percent and detect cancer tumours as small as two millimetres," says Richard.

Central to the group's research is Victoria’s multimillion-dollar electron microscope suite that houses scanning and transmission electron microscopes that are vital for examining nanomaterials. The transmission electron microscope, central to the work carried out by Richard’s team, allows them to see the size and shape of the particles they create, and to control the properties of the nanoparticles.

The microscope is used to examine ultra-thin samples, and has recently been upgraded. With higher resolution and a new digital camera, Richard and his team can now observe nanoparticles at the scale of 0.15 of a nanometre—that is about one billionth of a metre.

The scanning microscopes have also been improved. These microscopes use a beam of electrons to scan the surface of a sample, gaining information about its shape and composition. A recent addition is a cryoattachment, which rapidly freezes samples, locking their internal structures into solid form and allowing researchers to take images of softmaterials and fluids.

Richard says many students who have worked with the nanoparticles research group have gone on to prestigious postdoctoral positions and successful careers in national and international research institutes and commercial enterprises.

A current focus for the group, says Richard, is commercialisation of its nanoparticles. Together with PhD graduate Dr Anna Henning, he has launched an online company, Boutiq, to supply nanoparticles for international science and engineering clients. Richard plans to grow the business through Victoria’s commercialisation arm, Vic Link.

"I know how hard it is to actually create something that ends up being used by humanity but, at the same time, I can’t imagine ever doing research where I didn't think the outcome would be useful."

Article (edited from the original) courtesy of Victorious Spring 2013

For more information about the Nanoparticle and Quantum Dot Research Group, please visit their homepage.

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Victoria physicist receives award

8 October 2013

Dr Howard LukefahrCongratulations to Dr Howard Lukefahr who received an award at the 2013 conference of the New Zealand Institute of Physics which was held in Nelson from 27 to 30 September.

Dr Lukefahr, a senior teaching fellow in the School of Chemistry and Physical Sciences, was awarded the Rutherford Trophy, which recognises the development and improvement of lecture and laboratory demonstrations.

It is gratifying to see Dr Lukefahr’s energy and ingenuity in developing lab and lecture demonstrations that help students understand and think deeply about physics recognised in this way.

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PhD student attends international leadership programme

8 October 2013

Andrea Kolb

In September, Chemistry PhD student Andrea Kolb visited the United States to take part in the 2013 SciFinder Future Leaders in Chemistry Programme.

She was one of just 15 Chemistry PhD students and post-doctoral fellows worldwide selected for the all-expenses paid programme, which is designed to help shape the future of chemical information. Participants are selected for their academic accomplishments and commitment to research.

Andrea’s visit included attending the American Chemical Society’s National Meeting and Exposition in Indiana and visiting leading research and innovation institutions, including the Battelle Memorial Institute.

A key aspect of the programme was being immersed with scientists, editors and staff from the Society’s Chemical Abstract Service to discuss challenges in scientific information and gain a behind-the-scenes look at how scientific research databases are built and maintained.

Andrea, who is originally from Germany, came to Victoria several years ago to complete a six-month internship, and was inspired to complete her PhD here. She is now in her third year as a doctoral student, working with Professor Jim Johnston from the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences and MacDiarmid Institute, to further develop the use of nanogold as a value-adding colourant for New Zealand wool fibres.

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Grass alone won't grow the economy

20 August 2013

The fruits of a literary collaboration on innovation between the late Sir Paul Callaghan and award-winning science communicator Professor Shaun Hendy was recently unveiled at Victoria University.

The two physicists are authors of Get off the Grass, which was launched in Wellington last week and follows on from Sir Paul’s earlier book, Wool to Weta, which was published in 2009.

Get off the Grass argues that innovation in high-tech niches is the key to increasing New Zealand’s prosperity and that New Zealand needs to export knowledge rather than nature.

Prof. Shaun HendyProfessor Shaun Hendy is a Professor of Computational Physics in the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology at Victoria University and an Industry and Outreach Fellow at Callaghan Innovation. In 2012, he won the Callaghan Medal and the Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize.

Professor Sir Paul Callaghan was one of New Zealand’s most successful and internationally renowned scientists and the 2011 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year.

"If we are going to catch up with the countries that lure our young people away, we have to learn to innovate, take science seriously and see ourselves as people of learning, not just people of the land," says Professor Hendy.

While Wool to Weta examined a range of views about New Zealand’s economy, Professor Hendy says Get off the Grass looks at the relationship between scientific progress and economic growth.

"There has been a lot of focus in New Zealand on how things like taxes and regulation influence the economy. This book takes us in a new direction by looking at the importance of knowledge in economic growth and prosperity."

Sir Paul chose Professor Hendy to continue his writing on science and the economy, arriving in his office one day and suggesting they author a book together.

"I immediately signed on," says Professor Hendy. "For several years, I had been writing about science and the economy and had started my own research programme in the area of innovation.

"Few people realise that there are striking mathematical patterns that show up in both the natural ecosystems and in the economy. As physicists, Paul and I were trained to analyse these patterns and, as researchers, we had experience with turning scientific discoveries into profitable innovations."

Professor Hendy says the findings of the book lay down a challenge for New Zealanders.

"Our work shows that large networks of people are crucial for innovation so it is more likely you will have a good idea in Auckland than Wellington, in Sydney than Auckland and in Tokyo than Sydney.

"Given our size, this means that New Zealand, like other small countries, needs to invest more in science and technology - we can’t rely on the market to do it for us. We need policies in place that will stimulate innovation."

Professor Hendy says the book also argues for more openness and collaboration in New Zealand’s science and innovation system, with a much broader focus than just agriculture and the primary sector.

Just under half of Get off the Grass was drafted when Sir Paul died last year, leaving Professor Hendy to finish the book.

"There are ideas of Paul’s I haven’t done justice to in the book, such as his vision of New Zealand as 'the place where talent wants to live'. But others are taking up that concept and it won’t be forgotten.

"I would very much have liked Paul to be here for the launch but I think he would be very happy with how the book has turned out."

Get off the Grass is published by Auckland University Press, also the publishers of Wool to Weta.

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University welcomes collaboration with Callaghan Innovation

16 July 2013

P CallaghanVictoria University is committed to supporting initiatives that will help to achieve Sir Paul Callaghan‘s vision of greater commercialisation of innovation in New Zealand.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Pat Walsh says the University is available to work in partnership with Callaghan Innovation, as the organisation implements its plan for creating a more connected and effective research sector in New Zealand.

Callaghan Innovation tabled its first full three-year Statement of Intent in Parliament today.

Callaghan Innovation is named after Professor Sir Paul Callaghan, who was both a student and staff member at Victoria.

Professor Walsh says the University supports the concept of research teams focussed on early-stage fundamental research being aligned with staff and resources at universities, including Victoria.

"Victoria has world-leading capability in many areas of scientific research. We also have a track record of collaboration with other researchers and end users. All of this positions us well to work closely with other researchers and research organisations." 

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Leading Carbohydrate Chemist farewelled this week

16 July 2013

Emeritus Professor Robin Ferrier, who died last week, was one of New Zealand‘s eminent chemists and a leader in the field of carbohydrate chemistry.

Emeritus Professor Robin FerrierRobin came to Victoria University from Birkbeck College of London University in November 1970, to take up New Zealand‘s first Chair of Organic Chemistry. During his 27 years here, Robin continued his leading-edge research into the development of synthetic chemicals for pharmaceuticals.

He taught numerous undergraduate students and supervised many postgraduate Master‘s students and 11 doctoral research students before retiring from Victoria in January 1998.

Robin then spent 15 years as a Chemistry Consultant at Industrial Research Limited - now Callaghan Innovation - with IRL's world-leading Carbohydrate Chemistry team.

Throughout his career, Robin consistently published in chemistry‘s premier international research journals, produced over 150 papers, reviews and books, and lectured at many international meetings.

He discovered two reactions in the area of sugars having double bonds, each of which became known as the Ferrier Reaction and/or the Ferrier rearrangement. 

In 2012, Dr Peppi Prasit, a former Victoria PhD student of Robin‘s, led the establishment of an annual lectureship to honour Robin‘s distinguished career in Carbohydrate Chemistry. The inaugural Ferrier Lecture, in March this year, was given by Professor Vern L. Schramm, Professor and Ruth Merns Chair of Biochemistry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

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Modern Uses for Ancient Māori Knowledge

18 June 2013

Identifying modern-day uses for ancient Māori knowledge of the sun, moon and stars is one goal of research led by Victoria University astrophysicist Dr Pauline Harris.

The Victoria post-doctoral fellow chairs a national research group called the Society of Māori Astronomy Research and Traditions (SMART) which is carrying out a New Zealand-wide study on Māori astronomy.

The team is looking at topics such as traditional celestial navigation and the 'star paths' Māori took to travel between islands and the use of tribal moon calendars to plant crops and fish at favourable times of the year.

Dr Harris, of Rongomaiwahine and Ngāti Kahungunu descent, has spent the last year forming a picture of how particular tribes developed calendars from the movement of the moon, using published and unpublished materials and interviewing iwi. 

Her findings will be released later this year but, as part of Matariki celebrations, she will share some of her insights at a public lecture at Wellington’s Carter Observatory on 19 June.

Tohunga whakairo (master carver) Dr Takirirangi Smith and traditional knowledge expert Toa Waaka will join Dr Harris’s presentation. The trio will talk about how Māori used moon calendars, called maramataka, to track time, plant and harvest crops, fish and hold festivals.

Dr Harris says Matariki is a prime example of how some tribes used the moon and stars to mark the New Year and to celebrate and remember people who had died.

She says groups like SMART are able to meet the increasing appetite for information about Māori astronomy.

"Our role is to collate, preserve and revitalise traditional knowledge and share it with iwi, in the first instance, and the wider public over time.

"Ultimately, we want New Zealanders to have access to two valuable knowledge systems – the matauranga Māori system and the Western system – and to celebrate and use both."

In time, says Dr Harris, the group’s research will have a wide range of applications.

It will contribute to the ongoing cultural renaissance and resurgence of Māori identity by ensuring Māori communities know and understand more about traditional astronomy knowledge and practices – and can apply it to their daily lives.

It will also be developed into education resources such as books and outreach programmes for primary and secondary school students.

Additionally, it may also help global organisations, such as UNESCO, that want long-term, in-depth data from around the world to better understand the relationship between calendars used by indigenous cultures and climate change.

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Innovative Waste Solution

31 May 2013

A new waste treatment plant launched in Palmerston North is based on technology developed at Victoria University as part of PhD research in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences.

The Wetox pilot plant was officially launched last week at Palmerston North’s Water and Waste Treatment Plant, and uses a new process which involves applying high pressure and temperature to break sludge down into its various components which can then be recovered for use as fertilisers and other valuable chemicals.

The Wetox technology was developed at Victoria as part of PhD research carried out in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences by Dr Michael Richardson. Two current Victoria staff members, Professor of Chemistry Jim Johnston and Associate Professor of Chemistry Dr Peter Northcote supervised the thesis research.

Based in Wellington, the spin-out company taking the Wetox technology to market is owned by Viclink, the Victoria University company that commercialises intellectual property.

Professor Neil Quigley, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) says the Wetox solution is an outstanding example of how cutting-edge technologies can be created from fundamental research.

"Victoria carries out research of international standing, something that has recently received external endorsement both in New Zealand and internationally, and Wetox is a great illustration of that.

"It also demonstrates how, by working together, the University and Viclink can turn research into products and services that solve real problems and create revenue for New Zealand."

As with most scientific breakthroughs, says Professor Quigley, the Wetox technology resulted from a collaborative effort with other partners including Callaghan Innovation (formerly Industrial Research Limited) and the Palmerston North City Council.

Geoff Todd, CEO of Viclink says: "Waste water, water treatment and industrial processors that produce sludge face tighter environmental constraints and rising costs of disposal. The Wetox system provides a cost-effective solution to this problem."

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Friends and Colleagues Deeply Saddened by Loss of Pablo Etchegoin

17 September 2014

Victoria University this week mourns the loss of one of its leading scientists, Professor Pablo Etchegoin. 

Pablo in the labThe Argentinean-born physicist arrived at Victoria University in 2003 to take up a position as a Senior Lecturer in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences. His academic achievements saw him promoted to Associate Professor in 2006 and to Professor in January 2007.

Pablo Gabriel Etchegoin was widely regarded as one of the world’s most successful condensed matter physicists. His particular interest was in using Surface-enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS) to probe biological systems. Pablo and his research team established the Raman Laboratory, a world-class experimental facility that allowed them to contribute much to the field of single molecule detection. 

Pablo was closely involved with the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology as a Principal Investigator and had strong research links with Imperial College in London, as well as with groups in France and Switzerland.

During his time at Victoria, Professor Etchegoin became a close friend to many in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, the Faculty of Science and the wider university community.

Professor David Bibby, Pro Vice-Chancellor of the Faculty of Science, praised Pablo's impressive reputation as a physicist working on world-leading research. 

"Professor Etchegoin was at the forefront of the first-class research our scholars are undertaking in the area of physics and nanotechnology. He made many significant contributions in his specialist areas of study, and hoped to make a positive difference to the world through his research. He will be very much missed." 

Pablo studied electronic engineering and physics in Argentina, before moving overseas to complete his doctoral studies. In 1990, he became a Fellow of the Max-Planck Institute and, in 1994, completed his PhD in Physics at the University of Stuttgart. He then moved to Cambridge University as a Marie-Curie post-doctoral Fellow of the European Union. 

Before arriving in New Zealand in 2003, he had been a Senior Lecturer at Imperial College London and had also returned to his country of birth to work at the National Commission for Atomic Energy of Argentina. 

Professor Etchegoin’s contributions to science were recognised through a number of awards, including, in 2004, the T.K. Sidey Medal for outstanding scientific research from the Royal Society of New Zealand, which also elected him as a Fellow in 2011.

Staff Football League Winners, Spring 2010

A winning team: Pablo and team celebrate another win in the staff football league.

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Victoria Student Gets Ticket to Cambridge

15 April 2013

A Victoria University student is the only New Zealander this year to be awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, to study at a postgraduate level at the University of Cambridge.

Felix BarberWellingtonian Felix Barber, who is graduating in May with a Bachelor of Science with First Class Honours (majoring in Mathematics and Physics), was one of 51 students from 24 countries to be awarded the Gates Scholarship, which will allow him to study for his Master’s in Applied Mathematics. Globally, more than 3,500 students applied for the scholarships, which assess intellectual ability, leadership capacity, academic fit with Cambridge and the applicant’s commitment to improving the lives of others.

Barber's award comes after recent success with the William Georgetti Scholarship, which awarded him $180,000 over three years to support the PhD study he hopes to begin at Cambridge after his Master’s degree. The William Georgetti Scholarship is aimed at encouraging postgraduate study and research in a field that is important to the social, cultural or economic development of New Zealand. 

"It’s exciting to be awarded these two scholarships and I am very grateful," says Barber. "I am keen to take full advantage of any opportunities that come my way in the UK to do interesting and exciting work, so that I can one day give back to New Zealand." 

Barber, who originally planned a career as a journalist before realising he was "actually quite good at physics", plans to focus on research into condensed matter physics or biophysics. 

"I want to expand my knowledge base into these areas because I think they will allow me to do work that will have the greatest impact on the lives of others. My hope for the future is to produce research in a dynamic area of physics that can have a positive impact on serious world issues, such as the development of technologies to facilitate sustainable human existence."

Outside of study, Barber sings in the Wellington Youth Choir, is a keen mountain biker and is learning Spanish. He was also responsible for co-founding the Victoria University Science Society to provide both a social and academic focus for students in the wider science community.

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Victoria University Tops New Zealand in Research Rankings

11 April 2013

Victoria University of Wellington was today ranked first among New Zealand universities based on the research performance of its academic staff.

"Today’s release by the Tertiary Education Commission of the latest PBRF Evaluation ranks Victoria as number one in New Zealand. This validates the commitment of our staff to undertaking and disseminating world class research," said Vice-Chancellor Professor Pat Walsh.

"With 678 staff actively involved in research, and 70 percent of them operating at the highest levels (ranked as either an A or B), we now have external confirmation of our status as New Zealand’s most research intensive university.

"In 2009 the University Council set an ambitious goal to dramatically improve our research performance and staff have been very focused on achieving this. That commitment has certainly paid off and we are very proud of what we have accomplished."

SCPS PBRF group image

Our staff celebrating the school's recent ranking as New Zealand's best for research in our disciplines.

The Chancellor, Ian McKinnon, said he is delighted by the results and congratulates the leadership of the University, its Vice-Chancellor, and of course its staff, on the focus given to the importance of research and its value to New Zealand society.

"The Council has been quite clear in its strategic direction in this area and the University has not just responded but has done so at an outstanding level."

Victoria now ranks first or second in 24 subject areas, including both chemistry and physics.

Click here for the Dominion Post’s article on Victoria's success.

Click here for a video that the Materials Research Society (international professional society of materials scientists) created to highlight us at their recent international conference.

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21 January 2013

Last week, we hosted the 7th Australasian Organometallic Conference (OZOM7), the first occasion on which it has been held outside Australia.

The OZOM conferences are designed to give young scientists the opportunity to present their work, so apart from a number of keynote lectures by leading international organometallic chemists, the presentations are by students and postdoctoral fellows. Our Australian colleagues supported the conference very well and over 90 delegates attended.

The conference opened on Sunday evening with a plenary lecture by Dr Christian Hartinger, newly appointed at the University of Auckland, on the emerging topic of bio-organometallic chemistry and its application in the development on new pharmaceuticals. The other keynote speakers, Professors Martin Albrecht (UC Dublin), Mike Hill (Bath), and Rhett Kempe (Bayreuth) not only gave inspirational talks but also engaged with the younger scientists during the session breaks.

Kathryn Allan, Sarah Hoyte, Struan Cummins and Melanie Nelson

Some of the home team at OZOM7 (L to R) Kathryn Allan, Sarah Hoyte, Struan Cummins and Melanie Nelson.

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Staff Excellence Awards

11 March 2013

Suzanne in the classroom

Congratulations to Dr Suzanne Boniface, who was awarded a Teaching Excellence Award last week for her commitment to teaching Chemistry at the 100-level. 

Suzanne is credited with having modernised the 100-level Chemistry curriculum and for introducing innovative techniques such as the use of clickers, online quizzes and rapid feedback methods designed to encourage and motivate students as well as providing methods for gauging student understanding and for improving engagement with the course material.

Suzanne engages Chemistry students by making classes relevant through the use of stories and anecdotes that make connections between abstract concepts and the ‘real’ world.

While Suzanne is open to using student feedback as a driver to instigate changes in her teaching practice, she is also actively involved in seeking new initiatives in science education through her contact with other chemistry educators and her engagement with evidence based research.

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Master of Advanced Technology Enterprise

28 January 2013

Victoria University has launched a unique Master’s degree that will see students start their own company and pitch to a Dragons' Den-style panel of investors.

The programme was launched by University Vice-Chancellor Professor Pat Walsh the Honourable Steven Joyce, Minister for Tertiary Education and Science and Innovation, and programme initiator Professor Kate McGrath on Tuesday 22 January.

The one year Master of Advanced Technology Enterprise programme is an innovative approach to education, providing students with the opportunity to take part in a highly practical course.

Kate and Paul and our inaugural cohort of students

Kate McGrath and Paul Smith with our inaugral cohort of students

Working in teams to create an advanced technology business, students will apply their practical experience to new or existing business ventures. They will also undertake independent, supervised research.

The 2013 cohort of students have backgrounds in science, design, commerce and law and bring a wide range of practical experience, and will emerge as business-ready scientists or science-literate entrepreneurs.

In his speech Minister Joyce highlighted the role of technology innovation to the New Zealand economy and suggested he’ll be keeping an interested eye on the progress of the students.

The first part of the programme, a four-week intensive development course, started on Wednesday 23 January.

Information about the Master of Advanced Technology Enterprise programme is available here.

For more information contact Dr Paul Smith, Programme Director, on 021 754 756 or email

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Efficient Solar Cells Coming Soon

19 January 2013

Revolutionary nanotechnology allowing householders to harness enough energy from the sun's rays to free them from mounting electricity bills is just around the corner.

Wellington scientist Justin Hodgkiss is at the forefront of the global race to develop commercially viable printable energy- generating solar cells. The cells could transform life in the Third World and free the First World from the costly shackles of the electricity grid.

Hodgkiss says the basic science allowing cheap, effective solar cells to go to the mass market will be ready in a decade.

The full story can be read here.

 Justin Hodgkiss in the laser laboratory

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Sector Pins Hopes on Golden Fleece

18 March 2013

Jim Johnston & Kerstin Lucas

A golden yarn developed by Kiwi scientists and containing pure gold is expected to be sold to wealthy buyers of luxury carpets, rugs and furnishings.

The Aulana-branded wool has been developed by Professor Jim Johnston and Dr Kerstin Lucas of Victoria University after $3 million of research and development.

Prof Johnston and Dr Lucas developed a novel colouring process for New Zealand’s fine merino wool. This colouring process utilises the unique properties of small gold particles as colourant, resulting in a range of colours that don’t wear out or wash out. Nanogold wool also has antimicrobial, antistatic and insecticide properties, making it appealing for use in luxury vehicle and yacht upholstery as well as for high fashion apparel, accessories, interior furnishings and premium carpets.

Professor Johnston, who has a background in sheep farming and owns a farm in Taranaki, likes to work at the interface between university and industry.

“I’ve always looked for ways you can use science to improve some particular natural resource or product,” he says.

The full story can be read here.

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Chemistry at Victoria, The Wellington University

15 February 2013

Prof. Halton at the launch of his new book

Many histories of academic institutions have appeared over the years. However, when it comes to seeing the evolution of a single area of study, there are remarkably few accounts available.

Emeritus Professor Brian Halton's latest work, Chemistry at Victoria, The Wellington University: A Personalized Account of the Hundred Years from 1899, serves to rectify this for Chemistry at Victoria University of Wellington.

This new book offers the long history of Chemistry at Victoria from the viewpoint of the chemist, collating much information not easily available elsewhere.

Besides the insightful and entertaining writing about the trajectory of chemistry at Vic over a more-than-100-year-long timespan, the book contains a wealth of information on staffing details, publications, and other useful data.  

Many thanks are due to Brian for making the effort to provide this resource; now we just have to build on it to keep the history of chemistry continuously up to date.

Professor Halton's book is a fascinating read for anyone with an interest in chemistry or the history of Victoria University and is available for download in the link below.

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The Inaugural Ferrier Lecture

5 March 2013

The Ferrier Lectureship has been established in honour of Emeritus Professor Robert (Robin) J. Ferrier, an academic at Victoria University’s Department of Chemistry from 1971 to 1997. Robin is one of New Zealand’s most eminent chemists and a leader in the field of carbohydrate chemistry. 

The Inaugural Ferrier Lecture was initiated by Dr Peppi Prasit, a former PhD student of Robin’s and founder of the highly successful pharmaceutical firms Inception Sciences and Amira Pharmaceuticals. The Ferrier Lectureship, which tours several New Zealand centres and is intended to inspire the next generation of scientists, has been generously supported, via the Victoria University Foundation, from Dr Peppi Prasit, Callaghan Innovation, Victoria University and the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry.

The inaugural Ferrier Lecture was given by Professor Vern Schramm of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, to an enthralled audience in the Hunter Council Chamber.

As well as providing an elegant and engrossing lecture, Professor Schramm met with several research groups at VUW, where he interacted with post-graduate students and staff. His good humour and friendly manner were appreciated as he inspired the next generations of scientists to strive for the high levels of excellence that both he and Professor Ferrier have achieved in their careers.

Professor Vern Schramm & students

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Sir Paul Callaghan Symposium

25 February 2013

The MacDiarmid Institute celebrated Sir Paul Callaghan's life last week. The first day was occupied by a range of talks touching on Paul's scientific contributions and achievements. The following day explored Pauls wider impact and discourse on society, economy, university life and the preservation of New Zealand’s nature.

Speakers of both days delivered talks on many of the facets of Paul's life, his various (research) interests, his innovations and passions. They gave account on the energy Paul invested in everything he did. Talks were passionate, captivating and often very personal.

Paul Callaghan in the classroom 

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