From Competition to Collaboration

 

In the mind of former MacDiarmid Institute Director, Richard Blaikie, the beginnings of the MacDiarmid Institute will always be framed in time by a world-changing event that took place on the other side of the globe.

When the call came ten years ago for expressions of interest to set up Centres of Research Excellence (CoRE), Richard was at the University of Canterbury, as part of a team running nanoscience and engineering programmes. They put their hands up to start a materials science CoRE.

“I was in the US on study leave and was trying to get funding for the new Institute via phone calls back to New Zealand.”, he says.

“We were just upstarts really, with youth and beauty on our side. We were up against a combined bid backed by Victoria and Massey Universities, Industrial Research and others, but Paul Callaghan eventually got everyone together to make a bid that was ultimately successful. Our various activities have continued to be complementary and, by working together across the country, we get the benefits of being bigger than one university department. Paul was of course a brilliant, visionary leader and I was happy to step in as deputy.”

Richard took over from Paul as Director in 2008 and has now handed over to a new leadership team.

“Looking back, the thing I am most proud of is our phenomenal publication rate—our 1000th paper has just been published. Right from the start, we requested that all research publications mention the MacDiarmid Institute in the address line, as well as a research group name, and this turned out to make it really easy to keep track of the outputs. It’s also gratifying to see that, collectively, our work has been cited over 10,000 times now.”

But producing quality research was not the only challenge relished by Richard Blaikie. He also recognised that educating smart physical scientists and engineers was essential for the future of New Zealand.

“Our alumni are our most important product. What they go on to do is really the hallmark of our success. Not all of today’s graduates will be able to follow the same academic career path as me, but we need many of them to become successful entrepreneurs and build businesses to grow our country’s prosperity. My message to them has to be ‘New Zealand needs you’.”