Investing in our innovators

Published Jun 27, 2017

Further cementing Victoria University of Wellington’s reputation for innovation, three of its researchers were recently awarded $25,000 each from KiwiNet’s Emerging Innovator Fund.

The fund is designed to help early stage career scientists build a prototype of their disruptive new inventions and enable them to explore markets for those products or services.   

“To be awarded the funding, a scientist must demonstrate both a clever new idea and a willingness to work closely with industry and/or commercial mentors to develop a prototype,” says Dr Anne Barnett, Viclink’s General Manager of Commercialisation, who along with Senior Commercialisation Manager Steve Lorimer not only alerted the applicants to the funding, but worked alongside them to put their bids together. “We want more scientists working with businesses to come up with new ideas to solve industry challenges.”  

The first to receive funding was Ben Parkinson (left), a senior engineer at Victoria’s Robinson Research Institute.  Ben’s research into compact magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems has led to an interest in commercial opportunities.  “Working with KiwiNet and other partners, we’ve been able to develop a complete MRI system for the South American market which will be launched later this year. The Emerging Innovator award, and the support it brings, will be fantastic in helping Viclink and I to finalise the business arrangements for this product.” 

It will also be used to help develop the next generation of MRI devices, explains Ben.

“I’m excited to be involved in an MRI research proposal that includes a highly novel MRI magnet geometry—developed at Victoria—that will really change the way people think about MRI. We’re building a prototype so we can understand the details of this magnet geometry in the real-world—and strengthen our business case in South America at the same time.  

Also working in the magnetic resonance space, and the second recipient of the Emerging Innovator Fund, is Tim Brox (right). Tim’s research focuses on developing new nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) techniques to study the rheological behaviour of materials (Rheo-NMR). Rheology is the study of how all materials flow and deform when force is applied. 

Along with his thesis supervisor, Dr Petrik Galvosas from Victoria’s School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, and support from Viclink, Tim manufactured in-house and sold a number of Rheo-NMR enabling instruments to a niche market last year  

Using the KiwiNet funding to build on that knowledge and intellectual property, Tim is now looking to produce a world-first prototype that enables full rheological measurements to be done in an NMR setting.  As well as having its own commercial value, the prototype will serve as a founding platform for the development of a broad range of Rheo-NMR products in the future.   

“Being able to take a high-precision research tool down the commercialisation path is really neat,” says Tim — who has just taken on the role of Product Development Manager for Viclink to advance the Rheo-NMR technology. “I’ll also be able to use what I’ve learnt during my own experience with commercialisation and apply it to other projects.”   

The third recipient of the $25,000 Emerging Innovator Fund is Dr Andreas Zeller (center), a research and development scientist working at the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology in Professor Thomas Nann’s group. A chemical engineer by training, it was during his PhD at Victoria that he discovered new methods for the synthesis of nanocrystals.  

Nanocrystals have unique features such as their ability to create colour effects or kill microorganisms,” says Andreasso I began to think about how I could use them to enhance other materials.”  

He subsequently developed simple, quick and scalable ways to combine nanocrystals into silicone-based polymers to create ‘smart polymers’—which have the commercial potential to be widely used across industry and home, depending on the type of nanomaterial incorporatedas Andreas explains. For example, if we apply an antibacterial coating (through the incorporation of silver) to the silicone used in catheters, we could potentially inhibit the bladder infections that often occur, or, if we incorporate the nanocrystals’ colour effect properties with quantum dots we could create 3D holographic display screens.  

Andreas says he’s excited by the potential his research has for real-world applications, and will use the KiwiNet funding to test various markets before developing a prototype and refining an IP strategy — “with Viclink’s help”.  

“We’ve always known that Victoria has some of the most innovative researchers around,” says Anne. But three wins in a row from an organisation like KiwiNet is proof that we are continuing to grow new talent."