Marsden Success

Marsden Success

The Royal Society of New Zealand today announced the successfull Marsden Fund grants.  Amongst the 86 research projects were two significant projects belonging to MacDiarmid Institute Principal Investigators Professor Richard Blaikie (University of Otago), and Dr Geoff Willmott (Industrial Research Limited), and another led by Associate Investigator Dr Aaron Marshall (University of Canterbury).

Engineering optical near fields: principles and techniques for applications in sensing and lithography

Professor Richard Blaikie

$910,000 over three years

Controlling light at scales much smaller than its wavelength allows us to see, sense and pattern down to the molecular level.  The prospect of ‘perfect’ imaging—using visible light (wavelengths 400-750 nm) to sense or image at molecular scales (1-10 nm)—is enticing, and new developments in this field are now entering the marketplace. 

This field, known as ‘nanophotonics’, is rapidly advancing.  Using nanophotonics light can confined to precisely-defined nano-scale regions; these so-called near-fields, once in the right place at the right wavelength, can then be used in applied technologies ranging from biosensors to advanced nanofabrication.  But the principles and techniques for such engineering are in many ways is still in their infancy.  They usually require special ‘tricks’ of the light, and still do not bring to bear many of the powerful ideas of contemporary optical physics, such as negative refraction, superlensing, metamaterials or transformation optics. 

We have developed a new surface-state field enhancement framework (SSFEF) and have already made an important demonstration of how it can be used to dramatically improve near-field super-imaging—in this program this discovery will be expanded to provide a comprehensive set of principles for designing new advanced sensing and lithography systems.

Making a Splash: Superhydrophobic Spacing, Symmetry and Stretch

Dr Geoff Willmott

$345,000 over three years

Is it possible to tune the symmetry of a drop splash in situ?

The importance of drop impacts is instantly familiar to us from raindrops, sprinklers, sprays, ink-jets, painting, and so on. Scientific interest in drop impacts has never been stronger, due to their rich complexity, intrinsic beauty, and the ready availability of high-speed video. Drops landing on extremely water-repellent (‘superhydrophobic’) surfaces are particularly interesting, because they often bounce, or splash and form ‘crowns’.

To be superhydrophobic, a surface must have some roughness, so that water stays on top of ‘peaks’, and therefore easily skates across the surface. On man-made surfaces, the peaks can consist of a micrometre-scale array of posts, and it has recently been shown that the symmetry of drop impacts can match the pattern of these posts.

We will carry out a pioneering survey of drops bouncing and splashing on superhydrophobic polymer micro-pillars, arranged in various patterns. Subsequently, we will create elastomeric substrates which enable tuning (control) of asymmetric splashes by mechanical stretching. Man-made superhydrophobic surfaces may be useful for condensation management, ice-prevention, or as self-cleaning surfaces, and there are many superhydrophobic surfaces in nature, such as leaves of the lotus plant and butterfly wings.

Electrocatalytic conversion of carbon dioxide to methanol

Dr Aaron Marshall

$345,000 over three years

Efficient conversion of carbon dioxide into methanol would revolutionise energy technologies. It is proposed that this can be achieved through electrocatalytic reduction of CO2 using energy from renewable such as solar or wind. While the process has low thermodynamic energy requirements, the reaction is hindered by large activation barriers which substantially increase the energy demands. These barriers could be reduced by well-designed electrocatalysts but unfortunately to date no material has been found to catalyse the reduction of CO2 to methanol both efficiently and selectively.

We believe the key to synthesising such a material lies in creating an electrocatalyst which optimises the stability of reaction intermediates at the interface between metallic nanoparticles and oxide supports. As this interface is often regarded as the most active region in both heterogeneous and electro- catalysis, we propose investigating how the structure of these sites determine the activity of electrocatalysts for carbon dioxide reduction. From this, we will develop a structural rationale for electrocatalytic activity, paving the way for the development of highly active electrocatalysts and the efficient conversion of carbon dioxide to methanol.




Marsden Fund

News Release from the Royal Society of New Zealand

25 October 2012

$54.6 million awarded to Marsden Fund researchers

A total of 86 research projects have been allocated $54.6 million of funding in this year’s Marsden Fund grants.

The Marsden Fund is regarded as a hallmark of excellence, allowing New Zealand’s best researchers to explore their ideas. It supports projects in the sciences, technology, engineering, maths, social sciences and the humanities. The fund is administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand on behalf of the government.

Highlights from the 2012 funding round include projects that will give answers to the questions: “how handedness manifests in the brain?”; “how does ozone influence our weather?”; “could anti-hormone therapy inadvertently fuel cancer?”; “can we understand criminal minds?” and “can things become invisible?”. These research questions are only five of the hundreds addressed by the 86 projects funded this year.

Marsden Fund Council chairperson Professor Juliet Gerrard is extremely impressed with the excellent quality of the applicants and the proposals across the entire range of academic disciplines.

“The Marsden Fund supports the very best investigators to do world class basic research.  Marsden lets our brightest investigators work on their best ideas, without worrying about short term priorities.  Many of these ideas are high risk, but potentially very high gain.  In the long term, we expect some of these projects to make a big difference to New Zealand, in terms of economic growth, social issues, and a wider understanding of who we are as New Zealanders.”

“It is widely accepted worldwide that the most important breakthroughs are made when the best researchers are funded to work on their most exciting ideas.  This is what makes the Marsden Fund so vital for the long term success of New Zealand and makes Marsden researchers such an inspiring community.”

“The huge enthusiasm of New Zealand researchers to engage in basic research means the Fund is always oversubscribed and it is a great pity that we are not able to fund more of these obviously worthy proposals, which have been ranked by international referees as the very best in their fields.  However, it is great to be able to fund such a wide variety of projects from across the country and the academic spectrum and know that they are all of exceptionally high quality.  New Zealand produces researchers that are of the very highest calibre and their Marsden-funded research is highly respected internationally.”

The Marsden Fund uses a two-stage process to assess the proposals received every year from researchers at New Zealand universities, Crown Research Institutes and private research organisations.

Applications to the Marsden Fund are extremely competitive. Of the 1113 preliminary proposals received, 229 were asked to submit a full proposal with 86 ultimately funded, giving a success rate of 7.7%. All of the funded proposals are for three years.

More than a third of the proposals funded are Marsden Fast-Starts, which are designed to support outstanding researchers early in their careers, 0 to 7 years after their PhD. The Fast-Start grants are intended to help young researchers establish themselves within New Zealand and are expected to have long term benefits for the range of capabilities, skills and knowledge in the country.