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International honour goes to Victoria scientist

6 September 2004
Public Affairs

International honour goes to Victoria scientist

One of the world’s esteemed scientific prizes has, for the first time, been awarded to a scientist from outside of Europe – Victoria University’s Professor Paul Callaghan.

The Ampere Prize, awarded every two years to a scientist who makes notable strides forward in magnetic resonance, is being presented today to Professor Callaghan at the Ampere Congress in L’ille, France. He is the first scientist from outside of Europe to win the prize since it was established in 1990.

Professor Callaghan, who is Victoria’s Alan MacDiarmid Professor of Physical Sciences and Director of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, a government-funded centre of research excellence, won the prize for his research into using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) methods to study complex fluids.

Professor Callaghan has led a number of advances in the use of magnetic resonance methods, including the development of NMR Microscopy, new ‘diffraction’ methods for studying the structure of fluids inside porous materials, and new ways of analysing the motion of molecules over distances and times that hadn’t previously been available. His methods have found widespread international use in the science of materials such as plastics, liquid crystals, detergents and even food products, as well as strongly influencing developments in medical magnetic resonance imaging.

Victoria’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon says Professor Callaghan’s pioneering research, already well-known amongst physicists and chemists, will now receive due recognition from the wider community.

“The Ampere Prize is one of the top international honours a scientist can achieve – one of the past winners went on to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

“We are lucky to have someone with the originality and expertise of Professor Callaghan on our staff. Not only is he exceptionally talented but he has a great knack of explaining his research, and other science, to a general audience and is in great demand as a guest speaker and commentator around the world. Victoria University undergraduate and postgraduate students are privileged to be lectured or supervised by someone of his calibre”

Professor Callaghan, who will attend the week-long Ampere Congress on NMR techniques in France, says he is “delighted” by the award and that it is as much an honour for all the students and other young scientists who have worked in his group, as for himself.

“It’s also great that the quality of scientific research done here in New Zealand is recognised as being up with the best in Europe,” he says.

Professor Callaghan is hoping to make more advances. His research team is making strong progress in understanding the dynamics of a special kind of soft material known as ‘wormlike micelles’, fluids which mimic rudimentary biological properties. In a very practical development, other members of his team, in collaboration with colleagues at Massey University of Palmerston North, have developed new portable magnetic resonance equipment which can be used to track moisture in materials as diverse as concrete and milk powder.

“Magnetic Resonance is a platform science”, says Professor Callaghan. “There is virtually no area of modern science which has not benefited from its impact.”


The Ampere Prize

The Ampere Group, formed in 1952, is a European association of scientists active in the fields of magnetic resonance, optics, dielectrics, magnetic resonance imaging, as well as in the development of the related methodologies and technologies. Although the roots and the basic activities are in Europe, members can be from any part of the world. Today the name and the traditions of the Ampere Group are a guarantee of the high scientific standard of its organised activities.

The prize was created in 1990 in honour of the French physicist and mathematician Andre Marie Ampere (1775-1836), best known for defining a way to measure the flow of current, which was named after him. He also laid the foundation for the science of electrodynamics.

Former prize winners include Professor Hans Wolfgang Spiess (2002) for his work in field of polymer spectroscopy, and Richard R. Ernst (1990) who went on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1991, for his work in the NMR field. More information about the Ampere Group is available at

Professor Paul Callaghan

Professor Callaghan is Director of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, based at Victoria University. He is also the University’s Alan MacDiarmid Professor of Physical Sciences.

Professor Callaghan has won international recognition for his work on nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) techniques to track the behaviour of molecules in complex fluids. In 2001 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, London.

Professor Callaghan was born in Wanganui in 1947 and educated at Wanganui East Primary School and Wanganui Technical College. He obtained a BSc(Hons) degree in Physics from Victoria University in 1969 and a DPhil in Physics from Oxford University in 1973.

Professor Callaghan has authored or co-authored around 240 scientific articles and is the author of a highly successful research monograph, first published by Oxford University Press in 1991, and reprinted in paperback in 1993, 1995, 1998 and 2001.

The MacDiarmid Institute is New Zealand's premier research organisation concerned with high quality research and research education in materials science and nanotechnology. For more information visit


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