World-leading electrical engineer wins 2018 UC Research Medal

Rick Millane 3.jpg

Ground-breaking Engineering Professor Rick Millane has been announced as the recipient of the University of Canterbury's Research Medal 2018, one of the highest awards the University’s Council can bestow.

Professor Millane, of UC’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is an international leader in the development of methods for macromolecular imaging for structural biology. Over the past three decades he has been instrumental in developing new theory and computational algorithms for imaging the structures of biological macromolecules using x-ray diffraction. His work has had particular impact in the application of new x-ray free-electron lasers to study the structures of biological molecules. His methods are used by structural biologists to help understand disease processes and for drug design.  His recent work contributes towards our understanding the structures of amyloids, mis-folded protein aggregates that are implicated in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“The annual award goes to a UC researcher whose work has been recognised as truly world class, and I look forward to presenting Professor Millane with his medal,” UC Chancellor | Te Kumu Kaunihera Dr John Wood says.

“Professor Millane is an internationally acclaimed researcher whose work has wide impact, and of whom the University can be proud, as both an academic and a graduate of UC. He is a fitting recipient of the University of Canterbury Research Medal,” Dr Wood says.

“Professor Millane is recognised as an outstanding researcher, educator and educational leader. His skills are diverse and his work is interdisciplinary – in addition to his work in  biomolecular imaging, he has also applied his skills in image reconstruction and diffraction theory to medical imaging (optical diffusion imaging and magnetic resonance imaging), diffraction by disordered and geometrically frustrated materials, image analysis problems in biology, vision science, geology and atmospheric science, and aspects of visual perception,” Deputy Vice-Chancellor |Tumu Tuarua, and chair of the Selection Committee, Professor Ian Wright says.

After finishing near the top of his class while a pupil at Wellington College, Rick went on to earn his BE (Electrical) (First Class Hons) at the University of Canterbury in 1975 and in 1981 gained his PhD in Electrical Engineering, also at UC.

He worked at Purdue University in the United States for 20 years where he did foundation work in x-ray fibre diffraction analysis and phase retrieval – work which was supported by the US National Science Foundation. On returning to UC, he built on this work and has been awarded three Marsden Grants and a James Cook Research Fellowship. Last year he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society Te Apārangi. Also last year he was awarded, together with three international colleagues, a three-year grant from the Human Frontier Science Program.

Professor Millane was awarded the Royal Society of New Zealand T.K. Sidey Medal in 2016 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”. (The T.K. Sidey Medal is awarded once every three years, its first recipient being Nobel Prize-winner Ernest Rutherford, UC’s most distinguished alumnus.)  Professor Millane is a Fellow of the Optical Society, the International Society for Optics and Photonics, and Engineering New Zealand.

At UC, Professor Millane directs a highly regarded research group in computational imaging, and has directed 21 PhD students and 12 postdoctoral fellows, many of whom have gone on to a wide variety of positions of responsibility as researchers and managers, with key positions in universities, companies and federal research laboratories in North America, Europe, Asia and Australasia.

The 2018 medal will be officially presented to Professor Millane by the UC Chancellor, Dr John Wood, later this year at the Chancellor’s Dinner.

UC Research Medal

The UC Research Medal is awarded by the University Council for excellence demonstrated by a sustained record of research of the highest quality, or by research of outstanding merit produced over a more limited timeframe. The Research Medal is the highest honour that the University Council can extend to its academic staff in recognition of research excellence.


- University of Canterbury

Student to supplier – award-winning Little Yellow Bird founder flies home

Sam Jones

Sam Jones

Ethical uniform company Little Yellow Bird, which hatched in the start-up incubator of the University of Canterbury’s Centre for Entrepreneurship, is flying home, fully fledged.

Now in its fourth year of trading, Little Yellow Bird is an award-winning sustainable manufacturer and supplier of ethically produced, organic cotton uniforms and apparel, which traces its origins to a student club contest.

Founder Samantha Jones originally entered the idea for what became the company Little Yellow Bird in the University of Canterbury (UC) student-run business competition Entre, winning a prize in the $85K Start Up Challenge in 2015. Entre provides coaching and mentorship to help students validate, launch and grow their ideas and was integral to the launch and development of the company, she says.

“We won the Sustainability and Social Enterprise award. Then I headed over to India looking for factories to produce our products and began scoping potential sponsorship projects. When I got back to UC I headed into the Centre for Entrepreneurship’s Summer Startup programme.”

Born and bred in Canterbury, Jones completed a Bachelor of Commerce at UC in 2010 before joining the military and spending six years as a Logistics Officer in the Royal New Zealand Air Force. After leaving the military, she noticed a gap in the market for ethically made workwear.

She returned to UC in 2015 to complete her Master of Engineering in Management degree, and that’s when the fledgling idea for Little Yellow Bird took flight.

This year, Samantha Jones returned to UC not as a student but as a supplier and an inspiring graduation speaker.

An emerging leader in New Zealand’s social enterprise sector, Jones was named New Zealand’s Young Innovator of the Year in 2017.

Jones returned to her alma mater in April to deliver a graduation commencement address to the class of 2018. She told hundreds of graduating UC students: “There is no shortage of problems to solve in the world so do something that really matters”.

Social procurement is becoming increasingly important for businesses wanting to show their commitment to social good, Jones says, and uniforms are an item which can have a significant net positive impact.

“For example, 100 T-shirts made for the University of Canterbury by Little Yellow Bird generate approximately 56 hours of fair-trade labour and, because the cotton is rain-fed and grown without the use of chemicals or pesticides, this saves roughly 66kg of chemicals and 6,600oL of water from being used.”

Starting with T-shirts and polo shirts, Little Yellow Bird has supplied several University departments with branded apparel and Jones has plans to expand to other product lines UC may need in future.

Little Yellow Bird sources organic cotton from Indian cooperatives and produces all of its shirts in a small production unit in India. Uniquely, the business provides tailored impact reports with each order.


- University of Canterbury

Canterbury student designs new 3D-printed water filter to save lives

Ben Houlton

Ben Houlton

A University of Canterbury student is developing 3D-printed water filters with potential to improve water quality in developing countries.

UC Master of Engineering student Benjamin Houlton is researching how filters can be 3D-printed to remove trace metals from wastewater streams and other polluted waterways.

“Further down the track the filters could be used in developing countries like Cambodia where there are high levels of arsenic in river water,” he says.

His main focus is using computer simulations of water flowing through filters to determine the most effective structure.

The conventional view is that randomly packed filter structures have the best performance, however Benjamin’s supervisors at UC discovered that with new technologies this is no longer true.

He says modern 3D-printing technologies enable the creation of finer structures, which challenge the performance of randomly ordered models of filter.

With his Master’s degree due for completion next year, the race is on to understand and identify the most beneficial filter structure using flow modelling simulations, and validate the models against experimental data supplied by collaboration research partners.

“The benefits of 3D-printing mean we can simulate and predict the different flow characteristics before the filters are made. It also means we can recreate the same filter over and over.”

Removing metal traces from waste-water is just one application, Benjamin says. If it is successful it might change a whole range of packed-bed technologies.

Scion in Rotorua, which initiated the project in collaboration with an industrial partner, will experimentally test the effectiveness of the new solid filter designs.

Benjamin won the Biomolecular Interaction Centre scholarship to pursue his Master’s degree at UC and also received a prestigious William Georgetti scholarship which he will use to complete a doctorate overseas once his Master’s is complete, enabling him to pursue his research passions.


- University of Canterbury