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Pioneering scientist honoured by Victoria Uni

Professor Alan MacDiarmid, a pioneering research chemist and Victoria University graduate, is to receive an Honorary Doctorate of Science at the University’s last graduation ceremony of the century.

Professor MacDiarmid, who is currently involved in conducting polymer research with scientists at Victoria and Industrial Research Ltd. of Lower Hutt, is internationally renowned for discovering that plastics, which were thought of as insulating material, could conduct electricity.

In praising MacDiarmid’s “innovation, originality and extraordinary pioneering imagination,” Victoria University Vice-Chancellor Michael Irving said that MacDiarmid’s discovery was a courageous “breakthrough that required leaping over the most basic of received thought, and linking the fields of organic chemistry, polymer chemistry and physics in a wholly new way.”

In collaboration with his Pennsylvania colleague Alan Heeger, Hideki Shirakawa of Japan and others, Professor MacDiarmid discovered that polyacetylene, when doped with iodine, was capable of conducting electricity.

“This discovery opened a door through which many others have passed,” Professor Irving said. “The practical applications range from rechargeable batteries to gas sensors and light-emitting devices.”

It is 49 years since Professor MacDiarmid, who was born in Masterton, graduated from Victoria with a Masters of Science degree in 1950. He describes himself as beginning his career as the first “lab boy” in what was once a two-person Chemistry Department at Victoria University College, and says he remembers well his “enjoyable years at Weir House, the Victoria University Harrier Club and tramping in the Tararuas”.

Professor MacDiarmid left Victoria as a Fulbright Scholar to the University of Wisconsin. Since 1955 he has been at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has been a full professor since 1964 and the distinguished Blanchard Professor since 1988. He holds PhDs from the Universities of Wisconsin and Cambridge, and honorary doctorates from universities in America, Belgium and Sweden.

Professor MacDiarmid is author or co-author of some 600 international research papers and has received numerous special awards, medals, honors and citations, including recognition as one of the ‘Top One Hundred Innovators’ by the journal Science Digest.

On December 9 the University is holding a colloquium, “‘Synthetic Metals’: A Novel Role for Organic Polymers”, marking Professor MacDiarmid’s visit and achievements. Many of his colleagues from Australia and Korea have made a special effort to attend and share in his celebrations.

Professor MacDiarmid will receive his Honorary Doctorate during the 6.15 pm graduation ceremony on December 10. The ceremony is being held at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington.

Victoria University Wellington

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