News

Read the latest news from the Robinson Research Institute.

New Zealand superconductor-based magnets to support neuroscience research

12 October 2017

Victoria University’s Robinson Research Institute is part of an international project awarded funding to build a smaller and more mobile MRI system that will support neurological research.

The project, led by the internationally acclaimed Centre for Magnetic Resonance Research at the University of Minnesota Medical School, has received $(US)10.8 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health in the United States to help develop the system, which will be ready for clinical trials by 2021.

Researchers at the Robinson Research Institute, based in Victoria's Faculty of Engineering, are recognised worldwide as pioneers and leaders in high temperature superconductivity (HTS) research.

This technology will form a critical part of a key aspect of the project—removing the need for liquid helium in MRI machines and thereby reducing the energy and space needs of the machines.

The Robinson Research Institute will receive $(US)1.7 million of the total funding, in recognition of the huge potential the system holds for increasing our understanding of the functioning of the human brain.

Ben Parkinson, senior engineer at the Robinson Research Institute, says: “By using our high-temperature superconductor magnet technology in combination with technology from our collaborators at University of Minnesota, Columbia, Yale, and University of Sao Paulo, we’re building a brain imaging MRI system that is more like a motorcycle helmet. It fits over the subject’s head, allowing them to sit comfortably with a normal field of view during the MRI exam, yet it can just be plugged into the wall and use a normal power supply.”

He says the challenge with current MRI systems is that they require a great deal of infrastructure and resources to build, operate and maintain.“The standard MRI machine you see in a hospital requires 1,700 litres of liquid helium to keep the magnet at a low enough temperature to work and produce high quality images,” says Mr Parkinson.

“This creates a number of challenges—a lot of infrastructure, energy and space is required to run the machine. In addition, liquid helium is also not only expensive, but in short supply, so we need to look for alternatives.

“An MRI machine is one of the best tools currently available to study neurology. However they put the patient in an unnatural and confined space, where they can’t respond to stimuli in a normal way, and the range of activities they can perform is very limited.”

New Robinson Research Institute director

13 December 2016

Associate Professor Nick Long has been appointed as the new director of Victoria University’s Robinson Research Institute.

Associate Professor Long has been part of the Robinson team for over 20 years. The Institute was formerly part of IRL (Industrial Research Limited) and Callaghan Innovation.

He has led the Institute’s magnetic sensor research programme, and his primary research is in high temperature superconductivity (HTS) and the development of HTS Roebel cables.

“I’m particularly looking forward to better integrating our mission in applied research and working with companies with the educational mission of the University,” he says. “Robinson can offer graduate students linkages with New Zealand and international companies doing technology development at the highest level.”

Associate Professor Long is a Victoria alumnus—completing a Master’s degree in physics in 1989. He also has a PhD from the University of Southern California.

Associate Professor Long started in his new role on 28 November, 2016.

Lucrative tech deal to slash Beijing subway energy use

6 July 2016

The Robinson Research Institute has signed a deal with Chinese company Milestone Science and Technology Ltd to form three new companies to commercialise HTS technologies developed in the Robinson Institute in China.

Visiting Professor from Kyoto University

15 February 2016

Professor Amemiya from Kyoto University visited the Robinson Research Institute and Victoria University in January.

Professor Amemiya heads the Applied Superconductivity group in the Electrical Engineering school at Kyoto University with research interests in the Electormagnetic phenomena in superconductors (ac losses, stability), the power applications of superconductors and the medical and biological applications of superconductors.

The visit was highly successful with discussions around a high level MOU between our organisations developing well.

The ongoing collaboration between Professor Amemiya's group and the Robinson Institute around Kyoto's numerical AC loss calculation of magnets wound by the Robinson Institute utilising Robinson's HTS Roebel cable was strengthened by the visit.

Additional collaborations were also proposed, including the possibility of Professor Amemiya's group modelling of aspects of the performance of the 1.5 T YBCO magnet performance developed by the Robinson Institute.

This visit follows Dr. Zhenan Jiang’s placement at Kyoto University from October – November 2015 where he undertook a JSPS Invitation Fellowship for Research in Japan.

JSPS Invitation Fellowship awarded to RRI researcher

6 November 2012

Dr Zhenan Jiang of the Robinson Institute has been awarded a fellowship for research in Japan by the Japan Society for the Promotion of science (JSPS).

He will spend 2 months in late 2015 at Kyoto University undertaking dynamic resistance measurements in HTS coated conductors.

Research funding success for Victoria University

3 September 2015

A Robinson Research Institute project is one of the five VUW programmes that successfully secured funding in the 2015 MBIE science investment round.

The Robinson programme focuses on the development of high frequency quartz oscillators targeting market opportunities in communications infrastructure and will be lead by Associate Professor Nick Long. It will receive an investment of $800,000 over two years starting October 2015.

STI’s Conductus® wire qualified for use in Roebel Cable

23 July 2015

Superconductor Technologies Inc. (STI) in conjunction with the Robinson Research Institute has completed qualification testing of their Conductus® wire. Conductus® wire is now approved for use in making Roebel cable manufactured by the Robinson Institute and used in applications such as high-field magnets, transformers, utility-scale generators and large motors.

Rob Slade featured on Radio NZ 'Our Changing World'

29 May 2015

The Robinson Institute's Rob Slade was interviewed by Ruth Beran for Raiod NZ's 'Our Changing World' programme airing on Thursday 28 May.

In the interview, Rob shows Ruth the experimental HTS MRI system designed and built in the Robinson Institute, and explains how MRI systems work and the benefits of integrating HTS technologies in them.

Transforming power transmission worldwide

20 May 2015

An industry collaboration led by Victoria University of Wellington scientists has demonstrated for the first time that high temperature superconducting (HTS) power transformers can drastically reduce energy loss compared to conventional transformers.

A transformer developed by the Robinson Research Institute, currently in factory testing in Christchurch, has successfully handled top current capacity—1390 amps—and measurements show the energy losses were half that of a conventional transformer.

This demonstrated efficiency and reliability of HTS systems means they are an attractive alternative to current technologies, says Robinson’s HTS transformer science leader Dr Mike Staines.

“The world‘s shift from fossil fuels to renewable generation, the need for greater control of power flow and customer needs are driving the new electricity technologies. Some of these new technologies will be HTS based, an area in which New Zealand has developed a significant competitive edge”.

HTS transformers use superconducting wire instead of copper wire and liquid nitrogen for cooling and insulation instead of transformer oil, eliminating fire and environmental hazards. The wire is much narrower but can still carry the required current, making HTS transformers smaller and lighter.

The key to the transformers’ success is a new type of HTS cable, designed and manufactured in New Zealand by GCS Ltd. Called Roebel cable, it is based on a design invented in 1912 by Ludwig Roebel.

“This cable has multiple strands of wire wound together, which is similar to copper cables used in conventional transformers, but has significantly great power density. It also enables the transmission of electricity in power systems with less resistance or loss of energy”, says Nick Long, a senior principal scientist with the Robinson Research Institute.

“GCS Ltd, the world’s sole supplier, has manufactured its own unique HTS Roebel cable that is attracting international attention for numerous applications”.

The transformer is undergoing further testing to mimic a real world loading profile for an extended period.

Professor Bob Buckley, Director of the Robinson Research Institute, says the close working relationship with a number of industry partners has been vital to the success of the project.

“These domestic partnerships meant we’ve been able to rapidly overcome the technical hurdles before others around the world, and stay at the forefront of the race to develop HTS technologies for manufacturers and the electricity industry.”

With funding from the Ministry for Business, Employment and Innovation and the project partners, Robinson Research Institute researchers teamed up Callaghan Innovation which managed the engineering, assembly and testing, Fabrum Solutions for the cryostat engineering, local utility companies Vector and Northpower, Wilson Transformer Company, ETEL Transformers and GCS. The delivery team used significant expertise and experience from HTS-110, Powerlab, Parsons Brinckerhoff and the Institute for Electrical Engineering in Slovakia.

“Together we’ve shown that HTS transformers are a commercially attractive solution and will reduce energy losses, increase safety and increase power density within switch yards, which is critical within high population density cities,” says Callaghan Innovation project leader Dr Neil Glasson.

Wilson Transformer Company, based in Melbourne, contributed design and manufacturing expertise to the project and constructed the transformer’s steel core.

“It’s been exciting to be part of this development which has demonstrated the potential of superconducting transformers to deliver real value in transmission grids. We’re looking forward to helping in further advancement”, says Strategic Technology Officer Mohinder Pannu.

The researchers are now looking to assemble a team for the next phase of the project, which will develop the first commercial prototype transformer.

“Ongoing development work will ensure New Zealand maintains its position as a global leader in the application of HTS to advance electricity networks”, says Managing Director of Fabrum Solutions Christopher Boyle. “The transformer’s world-leading composite cryostat—designed and built by a New Zealand owned and based manufacturer—is attracting significant international interest.”

The technology demonstrated in this transformer has cemented the world class reputation of New Zealand in this area and is attracting commercial attention from major overseas corporations that paves the way for the supply of high-value technology-intensive exports into these markets.

Superconducting train beats world speed record

24 April 2015

Japan’s Central Japan Railway Company this week reported breaking the world speed record for a maglev train by reaching a speed of 603 km/h while maintaining a speed above 600 km/h for over 10 seconds in a test run carrying 49 company employees. The L0 Series superconducting train is ultimately intended to provide passenger service between Tokyo and Osaka on the newly constructed Chūō Shinkansen line, beginning operation in 2027. This new speed record is almost double the top speed of 320 km/h of existing shinkansen bullet trains in Japan.

The superconducting technology used in the Japanese maglev train is unique, with all other maglev trains currently in operation relying on conventional electromagnets. In addition to higher speeds, superconducting systems offer the benefit of improved earthquake resilience due to their large levitation distance of around 10 cm, compared to about 1.5 cm for conventional maglev systems. The company, with the support of Japan’s Prime Minister, aims to extend the technology to the proposed US New York to Washington rail link.

Victoria designs transportable MRI machine

22 April 2015

Victoria University of Wellington has designed a transportable MRI machine to speed up the diagnosis and treatment of stroke patients.

Named the ‘MRI Ambulance’, the design places a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner within a refrigerated shipping container which can be transported on the back of a flatbed truck.

“Unlike mobile MRIs, the MRI Ambulance is designed to be used in emergency situations alongside a standard ambulance, providing the ability for a patient who has had a stroke to be scanned en-route to the hospital,” says student Nicole Marshall.

“It means the type of stroke is determined before the patient arrives at the hospital resulting in greater efficiency and better probability of the patient surviving and recovering.”

The idea originated from Victoria University’s Robinson Research Institute. Building on its knowledge of new superconducting technologies and MRI systems, the Institute developed a concept for a compact, robust MRI system suited for transportation.

The Institute then teamed up with Nicole and fellow student Michael Richards from the Schools of Design and Architecture, who were tasked with designing the interior layout of the ambulance.

The students’ work was carried out as part of a Victoria Summer Research Scholarship project and under the supervision of Industrial Design Programme Director Dr Edgar Rodriguez and Media Design Lecturer Kah Chan.

Getting the patient in the correct position inside the scanner, providing a fully-functional working space and the patient and paramedic experience were the focus for the students.

The patient bed, a lightweight plastic stretcher with a collapsible foot rest and two lower wheels, allows ambulance operators to wheel patients in an upright position to the back of the truck. The wheels lock into two stainless steel rails on the loading system which winches the bed up and into the scanner. This also places the patients head in the correct position for scanning.

The MRI magnet uses “cryogen free” technology developed at the Robinson Research Institute.

HTS - MRI workshop held

1 April 2015

Robinson Research Institute (RRI) recently hosted a group of Japanese researchers from the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS), Kyushu University and Kyoto University attending a joint workshop on HTS magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Following on from the successful NZ-JPN HTS magnet workshop held in December 2014, this workshop brought together the RRI-MRI team and the Japanese team behind the 3 T BSSCO head-only vertical bore MRI system.

The workshop enabled both teams to discuss in detail their MRI projects, and to explore potential avenues for collaboration.  Over the course of the week, the researchers from NIMS' Superconducting Wire Unit also had the opportunity to appraise the RRI's automated 8 T superconducting wire characterisation system.

Ruth Knibbe featured on Radio NZ ‘Our Changing World’

27 Feburary 2015

The Robinson Institute's electron microscopy specialist Dr Ruth Knibbe was interviewed by Ruth Beran for Radio NZ's 'Our Changing World' programme airing on Thursday 26 February.

In the interview Ruth described how the Robinson Institute's electron microscopes differ from regular optical microscopes, as well as detailing the range of valuable information they provide to both our internal research programmes and the service we offer to industrial clients.

First New Zealand–Japan HTS magnet technology workshop held

15 December 2014

Workshop participants at Peppers Parehua, Martinborough.
Workshop participants at Peppers Parehua, Martinborough.

A workshop to progress the commercial application of high temperature superconducting (HTS) magnets was hosted by the Robinson Research Institute in December.

Ten world leading Japanese scientists and industrial representatives were invited to join with New Zealand researchers for the six-day workshop. The delegates shared their expertise in HTS magnet technology and sought to identify strategic research to overcome current barriers to its commercial application worldwide.

The Japanese delegates represented diverse sectors within the HTS magnet community. Academic representatives were from Kyoto and Tohoku Universities, the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK), the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) and RIKEN. Industry representatives from Sumitomo Electric Industries, Fujikura and Suzuki Shokan were also present.

The workshop was chaired by Professor Naoyuki Amemiya from Kyoto University and Professor Bob Buckley from the Robinson Research Institute. New Zealand technology firms HTS-110, GCS and Fabrum Solutions gave presentations at the workshop.

Dr Donald Pooke, HTS-110 chief technical officer says having such a diversity of leading researchers, engineers and wire suppliers in a friendly workshop environment allowed key issues in the development of HTS magnets and machines to be discussed at a much deeper level.

“For us, there was value in showcasing our own progress and product range to a highly engaged audience of potential customers, but also in identifying common themes to spearhead the development of new products and commercial opportunities.”

The overseas visitors toured the NMR laboratories at Victoria University, the Robinson Research Institute and the production facilities at HTS-110 and GCS. Weekend days allowed time for networking discussions and to explore the Martinborough area.

Professor Amemiya would like to see the workshop repeated in the future and extended to other interested parties.

“We were very pleased to attend this workshop and identify many areas of common interest between the work of the Robinson Institute and our own endeavours. We hope to be able to develop this starting point into an ongoing collaboration between Japan and New Zealand in this technology area.”

Several joint projects were agreed at the close of the workshop. These were: to investigate the replacement of conventional magnets with HTS magnets in Japanese accelerators, to reduce the multimillion dollar electricity running costs; to explore the use of New Zealand-produced Roebel cable in new accelerator magnets; and address technical problems in the application of HTS magnets in medical devices such as MRI and NMR.

The workshop was held at Peppers Parehua in Martinborough from 3–8 December and was supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) and the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Marsden grant will explore superconductivity

1 December 2014

Robinson scientist Dr James Storey has been awarded a Marsden Fast-Start grant to study the still-unknown origin of high temperature superconductivity.

The research proposal entitled Putting the Heat on High-Temperature Superconductors will develop and use several new techniques to explore the electronic effects that give rise to high temperature superconductivity (HTS), which Dr Storey says remain “tantalisingly out of reach”.

“It’s a nearly 30-year old problem that I can’t hope to solve on a Fast-Start, but my goal is to make a strategic advance towards a better understanding of the phenomenon,” he says.

Dr Storey will use differential heat capacity and thermoelectric power measurements to probe the electronic structures of a series of HTS materials.

“Measuring how much heat you have to apply to a superconductor to raise its temperature sounds simple, but the experiment tells you a lot of information about what the electrons are doing.”

With his collaborators at the University of Cambridge, Dr Storey plans to perform measurements on single-crystal samples, rather than the randomly orientated polycrystalline materials used previously.

“Single crystals are typically only a few millimetres long but produce data that is free of unwanted artefacts arising from, for example, grain boundaries. They are becoming the standard for measurement.”

As the size of the sample decreases, however, greater sensitivity is required from the instruments used to the measure the changing temperature.

“Our collaborators in Cambridge have developed a special differential probe that I will use to do the measurements. We will be the first group to do differential specific heat measurement on single crystals.”

Dr Storey studied for his PhD in the fundamental physics of superconductivity at Victoria University of Wellington with Professor Jeff Tallon. He has continued to research in the area at the Robinson Research Institute.

“Superconductivity in conventional low temperature superconductors is known to be caused by atomic vibrations. But in HTS there are so many things going on that it’s hard to pin down one excitation as the smoking gun. My research will involve untangling a bunch of different effects.“A theoretical understanding of high temperature superconductivity is potentially very powerful—it would enable us to calculate a new material’s superconducting transition temperature or predict a superconducting material that hasn’t yet been found.”

Deal with US company opens doors for Robinson Research Institute

7 October 2014

The Robinson Research Institute has signed a strategic partnership agreement with NASDAQ-listed Superconductor Technologies Inc. (STI) which will see the Institute’s innovative technology used for new applications in the energy and health industries.

Marsden Fast Start grant for microscopy research

6 November 2012

Dr Ruth Knibbe has been awarded a Marsden Fast Start grant to enable her to investigate nano-sized defects in YBCO superconductors.

The research project will utilise electron microscopy to characterise the structures of complex defects in superconducting materials, which improve its properties. The Marsden grant includes contributions from colleague Dr Stuart Wimbush and PhD student Anne-Helene Puichaud.

“Scanning electron microscopes (SEM) have many advantages over traditional microscopes”, says Dr Knibbe. They have a large depth of field, which allows more of a specimen to be in focus at one time. They also offer higher resolution, so closely spaced specimens can be magnified and visualised clearly.”

Two new recently acquired microscopes will be used in the YBCO project, but are also available for use by clients and collaborators to investigate the morphology and microstructure of a biological, ceramic, polymer or metal sample. Such analyses include failure analysis, fracture and degradation investigations, forensic investigations, particle size analysis and rock porosity determination.

The SEM service can provide imaging, chemical composition and crystal orientation mapping with image resolution up to one nanometre.

Read more about our electron microscopes.

Hon DSc for Bob Buckley

5 April 2011

Victoria University of Wellington will confer an honorary Doctor of Science degree on Dr Bob Buckley at its May graduation ceremony.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Pat Walsh, says Dr Buckley is at the forefront of the high temperature superconducting (HTS) industry.

“Bob has played a key role in developing New Zealand’s strategy for capturing the benefits of HTS discoveries. Among his many achievements, he co-invented Bi-2223, the material used to make high temperature superconducting wires.”

HTS technology underpins new developments that enable electricity to flow without resistance or energy loss. This enables lighter, smaller and more efficient electrical equipment to be made than is possible with existing copper wire technology.

Dr Buckley said he was honoured to be awarded the degree from his alma mater. “I am particularly thankful to those who nominated me and am thrilled to be in the company of such esteemed alumni.”

IRL scientists scoop PM’s Science Prize

27 November 2009

Two of New Zealand’s preeminent scientists, Drs Bob Buckley and Jeff Tallon, were today jointly awarded the inaugural Prime Minister’s Science Prize.

The award recognises the pair’s achievements in high temperature superconductivity (HTS). Dr Buckley, who manages the development of the technology for commercial use at Industrial Research Ltd. (IRL), was delighted with the news.

“Winning this award shows that science is now being recognised for the contribution it makes to New Zealand’s future economic well-being. While we are proud of the scientific achievements we have made, the real payoff for New Zealand will be witnessed in the next decade as HTS technology starts to make an impact in the global marketplace,” he says.

Dr Jeff Tallon, who is responsible for leading fundamental research into HTS, says, “It is wonderful to be recognised through this new award which I feel acknowledges the world-leading efforts of the entire team. Bob and I have had wonderful support over the years in assisting us in our research.”

Superconducting materials were discovered almost 100 years ago. The first low temperature superconductors required liquid helium to cool them to minus 269 Celsius, which made industrial applications prohibitive. In the 1980s Drs Buckley and Tallon discovered a new ceramic high temperature superconductor that conducted at minus 163 Celsius and could be cooled by liquid nitrogen.

The discovery was published in the journal Nature and after patenting their discovery, the pair spent the next 20 years refining their techniques and applying the technology for industrial use.

IRL Chief Executive Shaun Coffey congratulated both Dr Tallon and Dr Buckley for their dedication to the advancement of a field of science that “they can legitimately claim to be world leaders in”.

“It is wonderful that this recognition has come in the form of this new and prestigious award—an award that will, I am sure, elevate the importance of science in the eyes of the public. New Zealand’s current prosperity is based firmly on a foundation of world-class science and over the coming decades research in fields like HTS will continue to underpin our economic growth.”

The award has prize money of $500,000, of which $400,000 will go to IRL for the continued development of HTS technology.

Siemens cable deal for superconductor team

10 November 2009

Two years of development work has culminated in the manufacture and sale of the world’s longest second-generation high temperature superconducting (HTS) cable.

Two long-length HTS Roebel cables, prepared by the high temperature superconductor team, were recently shipped to the multinational company Siemens AG in Germany, where they will be tested for industrial use. Siemens will wind the rotors for a power station generator with a single length of cable, which will have an increased power output, a reduced mass, a smaller volume and a greater efficiency than generators that use traditional technology.

IRL and General Cable Superconductors (GCS Ltd) are the world’s leading developers of HTS technology. It is estimated that the international market for HTS applications will be worth over US$2 billion by 2020.

“Supplying this first order is an important milestone because it demonstrates that HTS technology is not just something of interest in the lab. There are customers who are willing to invest significant sums in HTS because they understand the potential it represents,” says Dr Bob Buckley, superconductivity team leader.

Research engineer Dr Rod Badcock led the team that manufactured the cable. “We’ve been developing a pilot production line here for GCS. For the last two years the team has been developing the automated processes and validating them for producing and then winding the strands of cable together. This was the groundwork that enabled us to manufacture the cables for Siemens AG."

The team has also been asked to provide samples of cables for a number of other companies in a range of industries around the world.

“We’re starting to build a critical mass in New Zealand in terms of our expertise, as well as generating income and developing the market”, says Dr Badcock.