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  • Position: Chief Scientist, Plant & Food Research.
    Field: Sensory and consumer science

    Professor Richard Newcomb simply ‘followed his nose’ when entering the field of scientific research. He was a Team Leader in the Molecular Sensing Division at the Plant & Food Research in Auckland and was an Associate Professor in Evolutionary Genetics at the University of Auckland. As the Chief Scientist of Plant & Food Research Richard is responsible for quality assurance of their science, science strategy, strategic collaborations and science capability development.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Dr Richard Newcomb smells a sample

    Scientist Dr Richard Newcomb putting his nose to work at Plant & Food’s molecular sensing lab.

    It was almost by chance that Richard became involved in his present area of interest. At the end of his first year at university, he told the Medical School interview panel that he wanted to be a medical researcher and their reply was that he should go away and study Zoology instead – which he did.

    Research is about the discovery phase, where questions are asked about what’s not known, and the application phase, where we work on what is known.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Dr Richard Newcomb at work

    Scientist Dr Richard Newcomb working in the Plant & Food molecular sensing lab.

    Richard completed a BSc and MSc at the University of Auckland before heading to the Australian National University in Canberra to complete his PhD. The focus of his doctorate was insecticide resistance in flies. This research led to the development and commercialisation of bioremediation enzymes.

    In 2011 Richard’s research focused on the way biological systems produce and recognise odours. This involves the development of an olfactory biosensing device (this monitors and transmits information about smell) using insect olfactory receptors. These could one day be used to “sniff out” foods, disease or even explosives! A second major research area is investigating whether an individual’s genotype (genetic make-up) has an influence on their ability to smell flavour compounds and on their food preferences. Richard is involved in important collaborative projects in both of these research areas.

    In 2013 Richard took up the role of Plant & Food Research's Chief Scientist, whilst continuing his part-time position at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland. In addition he is also principle Investigator at the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, an Associate Investigator at the Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery and the Convenor of the Cellular, Molecular and Physiological Biology panel for the Marsden Fund. He is the author of over 100 publications and is an inventor on 5 patents.

    Away from the challenging and very busy world of science Richard is interested in walking, tennis, music and having fun with his children.

    Nature of science

    Collaboration with other organisations is an important way for scientists to pool their intellectual and research resources. This enables them to conduct more substantial projects that may be of international benefit.

    Related content

    Find out more about our sense of smell and being a sensory scientist.

    Useful links

    Hear Dr Newcomb talk about his science career journey in this podcast from Plant & Food Research, Leading science.

    News article that looks at Dr Newcomb’s research on the sense of smell that was published in Current Biology in August 2013.

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    This article is based on information current in 2011 and updated in 2023.

      Published 1 February 2011, Updated 15 September 2023 Referencing Hub articles
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