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UC researchers win large-scale funding to solve real-world challenges

15 September 2023

Canterbury researchers working on cutting-edge solutions to some of the world’s toughest challenges have received a $28.9 million funding boost.


Dr Sarah Kessans will receive $9.87million in MBIE Endeavour funding for her research programme Developing platforms for biological research in microgravity.


Four Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) Smart Ideas research projects have been awarded funding of about $1 million each, and three Research Programmes received a combined $24.9 million in the 2023 Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Endeavour Fund investment round announced today.

The UC Research Programmes are broad in scope and focused on the future of Aotearoa New Zealand, including developments in the areas of aerospace, horticulture, and biocontrols to protect primary industries.

Overall across New Zealand, 19 Research Programmes were successful in the 2023 Endeavour Fund, including three at UC, the highest number to be awarded funding to date.

UC’s successful Smart Ideas projects include work to develop new organic batteries that could help Aotearoa New Zealand reach its renewable energy goals; using artificial intelligence techniques to improve light-based imaging; a new drug testing tool that could save lives; and exploring how microbes could help reduce methane emissions on dairy farms.

The University’s positive results in this round of funding exemplifies the talent of UC researchers and the impact of what they can contribute to the future of Aotearoa New Zealand, and internationally.

UC Research Programmes:

  • Developing platforms for biological research in microgravity, UC School of Product Design Senior Lecturer Dr Sarah Kessans, $9.87 million, 5 years.

Microgravity protein crystallisation is an increasingly valuable tool for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors. The majority of crystals grown in space show superior quality over control experiments conducted on Earth.

The UC team plans to work in partnership with leading commercial microgravity platform developer Axiom Space to ensure regular, frequent, and cost-effective missions to both the International Space Station in the near term, and the first commercial space station from 2025, to enable efficient, streamlined services to pharmaceutical, academic and government research customers.

  • Adaptable phage solutions: an Aotearoa New Zealand platform for precision biocontrol for primary industries, UC School of Biological Sciences Senior Lecturer Dr Heather Hendrickson, $8.94 million, 5 years.

This research programme will create safe and environmentally friendly biocontrols to combat bacterial pathogens that could threaten primary industries in Aotearoa New Zealand and abroad.

The interdisciplinary team plans to generate a robust pipeline for the discovery and development of non-GM phage-based biocontrols against any bacterial pathogen.

Initial products will provide economic benefit to the kiwifruit and apiculture sectors, which were significantly impacted by bacterial pathogens. Further pipeline optimisation involves research on phage biocontrols for cherry and salmon industries.

  • Predicting the unseen: a new method for accurate yield estimation in viticulture/horticulture, UC Computer Science and Software Engineering Professor Richard Green, $6.10 million, 5 years.

Aotearoa New Zealand’s wine industry adds nearly NZ$2.4 billion a year to our Gross Domestic Product and accurate forecasting of grape yield is a key issue for the sector.

The research team will develop a novel approach to predicting grape yield that combines an innovative imaging-based detection system with a growth prediction model.

UC Smart Ideas projects:

  • Enhancing the sustainability of dairy farming using advanced methane biofiltration – UC Chemical and Process Engineering Professor Peter Gostomski, $999,999

Professor Gostomski is leading a research project which aims to use methane-eating microbes as an on-farm biofilter that converts methane into carbon-neutral CO2.

  • Extending the boundaries of Digital Signal Processing: AI-powered Fourier Transformation Alternative – UC Adjunct Fellow in Physics Dr Sylwia Kolenderska, $999,999

Dr Kolenderska plans to improve the quality of images provided by optical coherence tomography (OCT), a light-based imaging technique used in ophthalmology.

  • Refining the future of forensic drug testing using NMR – UC Chemical and Process Engineering Professor Daniel Holland, $999,999

Professor Holland and his team are refining a technique called nuclear magnetic resonance and plan to use it to measure the content and concentration of illicit drugs more accurately and easily.

  • Long-lived high-performance organic batteries for a greener rechargeable world – UC Associate Professor of Physical and Chemical Sciences Deborah Crittenden $999,999

Associate Professor Crittenden aims to use molten salts made from organic materials to create organic batteries that would become a greener alternative to traditional lead acid and lithium-ion batteries.

For more information on the new research visit the website.

SDG 8 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8 - Decent work and economic growth.

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