Research Excellence centres 'future focused'

Steve Maharey Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)

Hon Steve Maharey
Associate Minister of Education
(Tertiary Education)

Research Excellence centres 'future focused'

The Centres of Research Excellence (CoRE) announced today will push the
frontiers of knowledge in key areas vital for New Zealand's future.

Associate Education (Tertiary Education) Minister Steve Maharey announced
today that five centres have been chosen to receive funding from the
government's new $60m CoRE fund. The centres were chosen from 45 original
applicants, and a final 11-centre strong shortlist, by an independent selection
panel established by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Steve Maharey visited researchers from the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular
Ecology and Evolution and The Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery today - two of
the five successful centres. He said all five centres would make a major
contribution to New Zealand's future economic and social development.

"Research is fundamental to growing a more innovative New Zealand. The CoRE
fund enables these five centres to expand our national knowledge base in key
areas to boost economic, environmental and social development.

"The fund is a concrete example of the government's active support for key
drivers of economic and social transformation. The centres chosen by the Royal
Society selection panel are very impressive:

  • the Alan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution will give
    us insights into how can live in harmony with our unique fauna and flora;
  • the Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery offers exciting prospects for
    developing the biotechnology economy;
  • Nga Pae o te Maramatanga (Horizons of Insight): The National Institute of
    Research Excellence for Maori Development and Advancement
    is the first ever
    Maori multi-site research centre and gives New Zealand the opportunity to make a
    real mark on the world-scene;
  • the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology is
    led by a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and will underpin a key aspect of
    the Growing an Innovative New Zealand framework by developing materials for our
    biotechnology, ICT and creative industries; and,
  • the New Zealand Institute of Mathematics and its Applications is led
    by a Fields medallist and provides a coherent focus for mathematics research.

"Taken together the centres bring together researchers from twelve tertiary
institutions, Crown Research Institutes and other collaborators. Most of our
universities and wananga are involved in a centre. This is particularly welcome
given the Government's policy of encouraging greater cooperation and
collaboration across the tertiary education sector.

"Operating expenditure of $40.6 million over four years, and one-off capital
funding of $20m for investment in strategic research assets this financial year,
has been allocated to the centres. Funding for individual centres will be
established following negotiations with The Royal Society.

"Like the Royal Society, the government was very impressed with the quality
of the proposals short-listed by the Royal Society. I intend talking with
Ministers during the 2002 Budget round to see how we might allocate additional
resources for this initiative," Steve Maharey said.

Announcement by the Royal
Society of New Zealand

Five Centres of Research Excellence Chosen by the CoRE Fund Committee

The CoRE Fund Committee, chaired by Sir Paul Reeves, has chosen five of the
11 shortlisted proposals to form Centres of Research Excellence. They are:

Alan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and
Evolution

Host Institution: Massey University, Directors: Professors D.
Penny (06) 350 5033 and M. Hendy (06) 350 7842
Partners:
University of Canterbury, University of Auckland, University of Otago, Victoria
University of Wellington

The Alan Wilson Centre will undertake studies of the ecology and evolution of
New Zealand plants, animals and micro-organisms. Recent research, using new
techniques such as sequencing of whole genomes and the study of ancient DNA, has
revolutionised our understanding of New Zealand's biodiversity. The simplistic
view that New Zealand is a "Moa's Ark" of relic species undergoing "ancient and
slow " changes over long periods of time has been overturned by the information
obtained with these new techniques. The Centre's vision is to utilise the
network of outstanding New Zealand biologists and mathematicians, who have made
significant contributions to developing new analytical methods and techniques in
this area, to address some of the fundamental questions about our plant and
animal life. The Centre will enable a dramatic acceleration in the progress of
our understanding of the processes underpinning the ecology and evolution of
living systems. The knowledge gained will enable us to contribute
internationally to an understanding of the nature of complex biological
processes and fragile ecosystems.

Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery

Host Institution: University of Auckland, Director: Professor
E. Baker (09) 373 7599 extn 4415

The Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery comprises a cluster of five leading
research groups at the University of Auckland with complementary expertise in
science, engineering and medicine. The Centre will focus on the use of new
technology for genomic discovery and on the innovative development of new
medicines for infectious disease, diabetes and cancer, based on new findings in
molecular biology.

Proteins are molecules that perform essential processes in organisms and
affecting their function is useful in altering disease states. The structure of
key proteins will be determined and used to design and develop new synthetic
drugs as well as to enable the development of models that mimic how they
function in cells. The Centre's links with major pharmaceutical companies ensure
the commercialisation of new discoveries and consequent economic benefits to New
Zealand.

New Zealand Institute of Mathematics and its
Applications

Host Institution: University of Auckland, Directors: Professors
V. Jones and M. Conder (09) 373 7599 extn 8879
Partner: New
Zealand Mathematics Research Institute

The New Zealand Institute of Mathematics and its Applications will focus on
the use of high-level mathematical and computational techniques to problems in
medicine, biology, engineering, industry and commerce, with particular emphasis
in areas of emerging importance such as bio-engineering, bio-informatics,
medical statistics, optimisation and risk assessment. A key activity of the
Institute will be the organisation and presentation of six-monthly programmes on
themes of significant and contemporary importance such as mathematical biology
and its applications. The rest of the science community will contribute
suggestions for these themes. The Institute will accelerate the use of
mathematics across the spectrum of science and engineering through its research
programmes and intensive periods working on particular themes. In an
increasingly complex world, the use of mathematical techniques to enhance good
decision-making will provide New Zealanders with a competitive advantage.

Nga Pae o te Maramatanga (Horizons of
Insight)
The National Institute of Research Excellence for Maori Development
and Advancement

Host Institution: University of Auckland, Directors: Professor
L. Smith (09) 373 7599 extn 2391, and Associate Professor M. Walker (09) 373
7599 extn 2391
Partners: Te Whare Wananga O Awanuiarangi, Te
Wananga O Aotearoa, Victoria University of Wellington, University of Otago,
University of Waikato, Landcare Research

The National Institute of Research Excellence for Maori Development and
Advancement will focus and build on Maori strengths in education, health and
science. It plans to bring together Maori and western intellectual traditions
and experience to generate new knowledge that will lead to new technologies and
significantly improve socio-economic outcomes for Maori. It will achieve this by
(1) drawing on Maori and mainstream knowledge and thought to raise standards of
research; (2) improving uptake of research through engagement with Maori social
structures; and (3) expanding and deepening both Maori and national research
capability. The Institute's planned research programme includes expanding
current research activities in (1) new building materials for cheaper, warmer
housing; (2) young people's views of schooling and society; and (3) fundamental
studies of the processes underlying diseases, such as diabetes, to which Maori
are genetically predisposed.

The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials
and Nanotechnology

Host Institution: Victoria University of Wellington, Director:
Professor P. Callaghan (04) 463 5945
Partners: University of
Canterbury, Industrial Research Limited, Institute of Geological and Nuclear
Sciences

The MacDiarmid Institute will be the centre for innovation and discovery in
fundamental and applied materials science and technology in New Zealand. Strong
international links coupled with a multi-disciplinary approach will enable the
Institute to discover and understand new advanced materials and technologies to
create new products, technologies and industries for New Zealand. Materials and
technologies currently attracting world-wide attention that will be addressed by
the Institute include: nano-engineered materials and devices, opto-electronics,
superconductors, conducting polymers, functional materials and coatings, energy
storage systems, soft materials, bio-materials and complex fluids.

The CoRE Fund Committee was impressed by the diversity of world-class
research represented in the proposals and funded the maximum number of centres
possible. Each centre will receive additional funding for expenditure on
equipment.

All of the shortlisted proposals considered by the Committee had been
selected by expert panels for their research excellence and their ability to
train researchers. The Committee had to decide which proposals would bring the
greatest benefits to New Zealand, in terms of economic, environmental and social
development.

The five centres are hosted by particular institutions but all involve
national collaborations of researchers. There has always been collaboration
among researchers in different universities and other institutions, but the
establishment of centres with dedicated long term funding (up to six years),
will enhance this teamwork and stimulate greater research activity.

For further information, contact Dr Valda McCann, Manager of Centres of
Research Excellence Fund, 04 472 7421, direct line 04 470 5776, or 025 241 2935,
email (valda.mccann@rsnz.org).