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Paul Callaghan, scientist who resonated with public, dies

Sir Paul Callaghan, scientist who resonated with the public, dies

March 24 (BusinessDesk) – Sir Paul Callaghan, the 2011 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year and a man widely credited with helping science resonate with ordinary Kiwis, has died.

Callaghan fought a very public battle against an aggressive stomach cancer since 2008. The physicist used his profile to push for the clever use of science and creativity to deliver a more prosperous and sustainable New Zealand.

Technology pioneer Neville Jordan said Callaghan will be remembered for a generosity of spirit among many other attributes.

As president of the Academy Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand from 2000-2003, “Paul did an outstanding job, provided a science direction and had a fantastic way of bringing people together in a very unselfish way,” said Jordan.

“Also, in his books, radio broadcasts and TV documentaries, Paul was an outstanding communicator of science so that people could readily understand it.”

Jordan said it is unfortunate that Callaghan wasn’t able to live long enough to attend the Transit of Venus forum to be held in early June, that he helped organise and was a passionate advocate for.

Born in 1947, the Whanganui raised Callaghan initially studied physics at Victoria University of Wellington. He earned a PhD in low temperature physics at the University of Oxford before returning to New Zealand in 1974 to lecture at Massey University where he also researched the use of magnetic resonance to study soft materials.

He was made Professor of Physics in 1984 and in 2002 was appointed as the founding director of the multi-university MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology.

Callaghan was also a founding director and shareholder of Wellington-based Magritek, which manufactures and markets small scale instruments using nuclear magnetic resonance and nuclear magnetic imaging.

Using his public profile, Callaghan sought to make science more accessible for all and was a strong advocate of the use of the arts to explain science. Cold scientific language such as properties and dimensions need to be translated into emotions, colours and senses he said.

In his New Zealander of the Year role, Callaghan vigorously championed the notion of smart industries as a driver for the country, rather than the traditional primary industries such as farming and tourism which are resource-heavy and have a relatively low return.

He was passionate about making New Zealand a place where home-grown and overseas talent wants to be.

Quoted on website, Callaghan said New Zealand has much to learn from the world.

“We need to discover what works for us, what gives us our global advantage. Find what is best in our society and nurture it. Find what we do badly and correct it. And most importantly of all, grow out of adolescence into adulthood. Avoid the self-serving myths, the phoney shallow game playing, the selective thinking that blights our ability to progress. Face up to our problems, solve them and move on. Then we can truly stand tall.”


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