UC academic awarded for biomolecular imaging work

24 November 2016

UC Professor Rick Millane has been awarded the TK Sidey Medal by the Royal Society of New Zealand for his contributions to methods for imaging biological molecules.

UC academic awarded for biomolecular imaging work

University of Canterbury Professor Rick Millane has been awarded the TK Sidey Medal by the Royal Society of New Zealand for his contributions to methods for imaging biological molecules.

University of Canterbury Professor Rick Millane has been awarded the TK Sidey Medal by the Royal Society of New Zealand for his contributions to methods for imaging biological molecules.

University of Canterbury PhD student Michelle Goodman also won a scholarship for her research on understanding Alzheimer's disease.

Prof Millane is based in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Canterbury (UC). His theoretical and computational methods for imaging biological molecules and tissue using x-rays and optical radiation allow their structures to be determined, which is key to understanding disease. The work has significant application for drug design and non-invasive medical imaging.

In a gala dinner hosted by the Royal Society in Christchurch on Wednesday night, the TK Sidey Medal for excellence in scientific research in electromagnetic radiation was presented to Prof Millane for his “wide-ranging and fundamental work in x-ray diffraction imaging, diffraction theory, and optical diffusion imaging, and their application in biology and medicine”.

Prof Millane said that he was “delighted and honoured” to receive the award, particularly since the first TK Sidey Medal was awarded to his fellow University of Canterbury alumni Ernest Rutherford in 1933.

“I am grateful to the many students and colleagues around the world who have supported and contributed to my research.”

Prof Millane is well known internationally for his work on ‘phase retrieval’ methods, an important component of x-ray diffraction imaging, publishing his first papers in this area in the early 1990s.

His phase retrieval algorithms have been applied to the latest imaging technology: x-ray free electron lasers (XFELs), which use x-ray pulses short enough and intense enough to image biomolecules that have defied conventional imaging methods, and use nano-scale crystals with just a few unit cells in each direction. This technology has the potential to greatly advance understanding of disease processes and drug design.

The medal selection committee acknowledged him as a leader in advancing algorithms that are suitable for this new technology.  He was awarded a prestigious James Cook Research Fellowship in 2012 from the Royal Society of New Zealand to work on this topic.

Prof Millane has also worked on fibre diffraction analysis for imaging and determining the structures of disordered or non-crystalline substances, including biopolymers such as DNA and sugars in connective-tissue.

His work on optical diffusion imaging has contributed to a new non-invasive medical imaging technique.

Prof Millane is a Fellow of the Institution of Professional Engineers of New Zealand, the International Society for Optics and Photonics and the Optical Society of America, and is frequently invited to give lectures overseas.

In the same gala event, the Royal Society of New Zealand RHT Bates Postgraduate Scholarship 2017 was awarded to University of Canterbury PhD student Michelle Goodman. She was recognised for her research on calcium dynamics in cerebral tissue simulations using reaction diffusion equations to understand Alzheimer's disease. 

“I feel very honoured to be awarded such a prestigious scholarship and humbled to receive it amongst so many of New Zealand's top researchers. The night was spectacular and I am very thankful for the overwhelming support I have and continue to receive to further my research.” 

Since earning her undergraduate degree at UC in 2014, she has been completing her PhD in Mechanical Engineering in the UC High Performance Computing Unit. Goodman’s supervisors are Professor Tim David, Associate Professor Rua Murray and Dr Paul Docherty.

The award is in memory of the late Professor Richard H.T. Bates, a former UC Professor, and is tenable at any New Zealand university. 

For further information please contact:
Margaret Agnew, Senior External Relations Advisor, University of Canterbury
Phone: +64 3 369 3631 | Mobile: +64 275 030 168 | margaret.agnew@canterbury.ac.nz
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