Molecular Horizons: Wollongong's $80 million research centre

University of Wollongong

Monday, 24 October, 2016

Molecular Horizons: Wollongong's $80 million research centre

The University of Wollongong (UOW) has announced its plans for an $80 million Centre of Molecular and Life Sciences — its biggest ever self-funded research infrastructure investment.

Launched at Parliament House last week by Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings CBE, the centre, dubbed ‘Molecular Horizons’, will house around 150 researchers and be equipped with facilities for single-molecule, molecular and cellular imaging. Its capabilities will include X-ray crystallography, electron microscopy and flow cytometry as well as single-molecule and high-resolution fluorescence microscopy, structural mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

The collaborative research centre will be equipped with world-leading technologies, centred around the $7 million Titan Krios cryo-electron microscope. The 3-metre tall, one-tonne instrument is said to be the world’s most powerful and flexible high-resolution electron microscope for biological research, enabling researchers to see the inner workings of human cells and enable new health-related breakthroughs. The university has also acquired a second microscope, the Talos Arctica, which complements the Titan Krios with faster sample preparation.

By generating 3D visualisations of protein molecules — the most structurally complex molecules inside human cells — the microscopes will allow researchers to understand how proteins move and interact over time. This is critical to developing new ways to detect and fight diseases ranging from cancer to Alzheimer’s or developing new classes of antibiotics to fight superbugs.

Molecular Horizons is expected to foster increased collaboration with organisations such as Monash University (home of Australia’s only other Titan Krios microscope), the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and international institutions including Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins University. It will also serve as the centrepiece of the UOW’s Health and Wellbeing Strategy, which includes a raft of initiatives aimed at harnessing the university’s expertise in medical research, research application and education to address regional and global health challenges.

“The Molecular Horizons facility will do something totally transformative for Australia: it will allow researchers here at the University of Wollongong, along with our strategic partners, to do cutting-edge research and produce research outputs that will have a tremendous impact on people’s lives,” said Professor Wellings.

“By combining the very best equipment available with a truly interdisciplinary approach in a purpose-designed collaborative research facility, UOW will be able to attract and retain some of the world’s best researchers and have research teams work together to make revolutionary health-related discoveries.”

Construction of Molecular Horizons will commence in mid-2017 and the centre is expected to open in 2019. Professor Wellings concluded that the facility will “allow the university and Australia to collaborate with the world’s best universities and research institutions on a whole new level”.

Pictured: An artist’s impression of Molecular Horizons.

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