New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern officially opened the new Ernest Rutherford building at the University of Canterbury (UC) last week.

An event to be remembered, the ceremony was attended by hundreds of invited guests and featured an impressive display of fireworks outside the building’s entrance.

Reflective of the University’s commitment to science and technology, the $220 million project represents a significant investment post Canterbury’s 2010-2011 earthquakes. At the time, the natural disaster had serious repercussions for the University, now 7 years on, the recovery is looking positive and maintenance of its reputation for world-class facilities are remaining strong, particularly in The College of Science. The opening of the Ernest Rutherford building is Stage 1 of the entire Rutherford Regional Science and Innovation Centre (RRSIC).

Last week’s exciting demonstration marks an important point in the University of Canterbury’s 145 year history, UC Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the College of Science, Professor Wendy Lawson explains.

“By improving and expanding our students’ learning opportunities, we can equip them fully for the future, not only to thrive in the modern workplace, but to tackle the important issues facing the world today. This is the future of science and we are excited to be at its leading edge.”

As New Zealand’s second oldest university, it is unsurprising that history also plays a crucial part in the naming convention of the new building. The Lord Rutherford of Nelson (Ernest Rutherford) was known as the father of nuclear physics. Born in 1871 in New Zealand, the physicist was highly regarded for demonstrating that there were at least two distinct types of radiation: alpha radiation and beta radiation. Lord Rutherford was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908 “for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances.” Ernest is one of the famous alumnus of the University of Canterbury, along with notable historical figures such as Astrophysicist Sir Ian Axford and Peace Activist Ada Wells. Ernest Rutherford’s great-granddaughter, Professor Mary Fowler, was an honoured guest at the building’s opening.

The opening of Stage 1 of the Rutherford Regional Science and Innovation Centre (RRSIC) not only heralds a positive historical moment for the University, it also marks a significant collaboration between Australia and New Zealand local building services engineers Umow Lai and Cosgroves.

In a competitive market where multi-national engineering organisations are sometimes preferred for their abundance of resources, the Joint Venture between Australian operator Umow Lai and Christchurch-based building services engineering consultancy, Cosgroves, demonstrates the University’s commitment to supporting local service providers.

Umow Lai Director David Uhlhorn, who headed the firm’s project team for Stage 1, also shared his view on the winning combination.

“I believe that the winning formula was the strong track record of Umow Lai in tertiary education science projects of equivalent size, coupled with Cosgroves’ extensive experience with working with the University”.

The Umow Lai-Cosgroves team provided a number of engineering services critical to bringing the project to life including: mechanical, electrical, hydraulics, vertical transportation, sustainability, acoustics, ICT, security and dangerous goods services.

The project was benchmarked against the NZGBC Green Star Education Tool, targeting 5 stars, although it will not be formally certified.

Currently Cosgroves and Umow Lai are also involved in the design of the proposed Lincoln University/AgResearch Joint Facility, as well as a laboratory building to be located at the Lincoln University Christchurch campus.

Mr Uhlhorn stated that following these significant appointments, Umow Lai will be exploring further opportunities for work in New Zealand with local partners, Cosgroves, and in particular projects involving the redevelopment of Christchurch.

Find out more about the project here