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Revealed: The 2018 KiwiNet Awards finalists

The finalists for the sixth annual KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards have been announced – featuring such innovations as infinitely rechargeable batteries and nitrate sensors being developed by a University of Canterbury chemistry expert. Once again, it’s proof that New Zealand punches far above its weight when it comes to research making the world a better place.

Top image: Dr Deborah Crittenden, senior lecturer at the University of Canterbury's School of Physical and Chemical Sciences and 2018 KiwiNet Awards finalist

The 12 KiwiNet Awards finalists were selected to celebrate the impact from science through successful research commercialisation within New Zealand’s universities and Crown Research Institutes. The researchers and research commercialisation projects include such things as insect receptor sensors, ‘Hot Lime’ to help feed the world, air quality measurement sensors and systems, biological tools to control plant disease, virtual and augmented reality technology, research for the world’s largest radio telescope, high-speed train travel, smart sensors for wearables, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) competition, plant-based weight management extract, MRI-safe electrode implants, and more.

Among the finalists is University of Canterbury chemistry expert Dr Deborah Crittenden, who is developing new technologies including infinitely rechargeable batteries and real-time nitrate sensors.

A senior lecturer in UC’s School of Physical and Chemical Sciences, she is one of three finalists for the Norman F.B. Barry Trust Breakthrough Innovator award. Her work developing a laser sensor capable of measuring nitrates in the field is already award-winning.

Dr Crittenden is currently working on designing new energy storage liquids for use in redox flow batteries, and a nitrate sensor system based upon laser-induced photochemistry coupled to simple, low-cost detection methods. She is also developing a new platform technology for predicting how drug molecules bind to their targets on a very large scale. Translation: the stuff she’s working on is pretty cool – and could have big implications for society in the future (can you image? Batteries that can be reused basically forever?).

In 2017, a spin-out company, Flow Holdings, was established to develop Dr Crittenden’s molecular design work of a prototype redox flow battery. If that’s not enough, discussions are ongoing around partnering with industry to further advance and commercialise Dr Crittenden’s nitrate sensor design, which has already attracted pre-incubation funding. Dr Crittenden is also in early discussions with a tech incubator around commercialising her computational drug design tool.

The Kiwi Innovation Network (KiwiNet) is a consortium of 16 universities, Crown Research Institutes, an Independent Research Organisation and a Crown Entity established to boost commercial outcomes from publicly funded research by helping to transform scientific discoveries into new products and services.

CEO James Hutchinson says of the finalists: “Yet again, we’ve found amazing teams from around the country who are creating commercial potential from their highly innovative science. These research projects and new technologies have the power to help solve global problems and kick-start valuable new companies, which will help enable a higher achieving New Zealand.”

The KiwiNet Awards judging panel includes Dr Andrew Kelly (an executive director at BioPacific Partners), Helen Robinson (ONZM, and the executive chair at Organic Initiative), Bridget Coates (the co-founder of Kura and chairperson of White Cloud Dairy Innovation Ltd), Paul Dyson (an entrepreneur and non-executive director), and Veronica Harwood-Stevenson (the founder of Humble Bee and Spindle Fibre Films and a member of the Return on Science Momentum Investment Committee).

Lead judge Dr Kelly says: “I feel like we say this every year, but the quality of commercialisation in this country really is getting better. Each of the four Award categories was strong and demonstrated the power of outstanding research innovation backed by real commercial savvy. In fact, the judging panel had the longest (and hardest) discussion we’ve ever had.”

The annual KiwiNet Awards are designed to recognise and celebrate impact from science through successful research commercialisation. Sponsorship support is provided by BNZ, MinterEllisonRuddWatts, PwC, Baldwins, MBIE, Norman F. B. Barry Foundation, and Sciencelens photography.

Jason Lewthwaite, senior partner at BNZ, says: “With the world being on the cusp of change unlike any other time through history, and science and technology being a key driver of this change, the opportunity has never been better for NZ based innovators to achieve global scalability.”

KiwiNet partner organisations include WaikatoLink, Plant & Food Research, Otago Innovation Ltd, Lincoln University, AUT Enterprises, AgResearch, University of Canterbury, Callaghan Innovation, Viclink, Landcare Research, Cawthron Institute, ESR, NIWA, Scion, Malaghan Institute, and GNS Science. Principal support is provided by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE).

Says Paul Stocks, deputy chief executive of MBIE’s Labour, Science and Enterprise group: “The range of innovative research reaching market this year will go a long way to solving some of the most pressing issues facing New Zealand.”

Winners of the KiwiNet Awards 2018 will be announced at an evening reception on July 5 in Auckland. 

The 2018 KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards finalists are:

Norman F. B. Barry Foundation Breakthrough Innovator Award:

  • Dr Andrew Kralicek, Plant & Food Research: Harnessing insects’ receptors for commercial sensing.

  • Dr Deborah Crittenden, University of Canterbury: Infinitely rechargeable batteries; real-time nitrate sensors.

  • Dr Vlatko Materić, Hot Lime Labs: ‘Hot Lime’ to increase greenhouse crop yields and help feed the world.

Baldwins Researcher Entrepreneur Award:

  • Professor David Williams, University of Auckland and MacDiarmid Institute: Air Quality Measurement for Everyone: Sensors, systems and networks.

  • Dr Philip Elmer, Plant & Food Research: Biological tools to control plant disease and reduce pesticides.

  • Associate Professor Taehyun Rhee, Victoria University of Wellington: Taking New Zealand’s virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology to the world.

MinterEllisonRuddWatts Research & Business Partnership Award:

  • AUT and the NZ SKA Alliance: Square Kilometre Array Radio Telescope (SKA) – NZ is a member of its first-ever global mega-science project jointly undertaking research and design behind the world’s largest radio telescope.

Photo credit: SKA
  • Victoria University’s Robinson Research Institute and Chinese partners: Revolutionising high-speed train travel.

  • StretchSense and Auckland UniServices: StretchSense - next generation smart soft sensors for wearables.

PwC Commercial Impact Award:

  • Callaghan Innovation: C-Prize Competition - Transforming NZ’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) sector.

  • Plant & Food Research: Amarasate Extract – 100% plant-based, world-first weight management extract.

  • University of Waikato and WaikatoLink: MRI-Safe human-implantable electrodes – licensing deal with Saluda.

The BNZ Supreme Award is awarded to the category winner with overall excellence in all core areas of research commercialisation.

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