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University deeply saddened by death of Paul Callaghan

Victoria University deeply saddened by death of Paul Callaghan

Victoria University is deeply saddened by the death of Professor Sir Paul Callaghan, one of New Zealand’s most eminent scientists.

Professor Callaghan was a world-leading physicist in his field at Victoria University and at the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, a Centre of Research Excellence on Victoria’s campus of which he was the founding director. He died of colon cancer.

Victoria University Vice-Chancellor Professor Pat Walsh says that Professor Callaghan, who was named New Zealander of the Year in 2011, made an immense contribution to the country.

“He was a leading light in the field of nuclear magnetic resonance, and in addition made a significant contribution to communicating science beyond the scientific community and to debate about New Zealand’s future prosperity.

“As one of my academic colleagues, Paul was a great leader and inspiration,” says Professor Walsh.

“During his treatment for cancer, though an immensely difficult time for him and his family, he went about his work with characteristic good humour and stoicism.

“He will be dearly missed by friends and colleagues at Victoria, the MacDiarmid Institute and further afield.”

As well as his prolific work and cutting edge research, Professor Callaghan explained the mysteries of science to a wider audience, says Professor Walsh.

“He demonstrated, to use his own words: ‘not just that science is interesting and a relevant part of our lives but it can actually make a tremendous difference to the potential of this country’.”

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In September last year he gave Victoria’s inaugural Chancellor’s Lecture to 1500 people in the Wellington Town Hall, receiving a standing ovation.

His 2009 book Wool to Weta: Transforming New Zealand’s Culture and Economy put forward Professor Callaghan’s vision of a future New Zealand economy based on science, technology and intellectual property.

He himself has been at the forefront of connecting science and business, founding Magritek Ltd, a Wellington-based company, which sells scientific instruments worldwide for nuclear magnetic resonance.

His numerous contributions and academic achievements—more than 240 articles in scientific journals over the past 35 years—were acknowledged by his alma mater in December 2010 when Victoria awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Science.

His citation closed by saying: ‘We are immensely proud and privileged to confer on Paul Callaghan Victoria’s highest honour in recognition of the intellectual and imaginative power he has brought to his research and so generously shares with us.’

Professor Walsh says Victoria would continue Professor Callaghan’s work.

“Paul was the driving force in developing Victoria as a world-leader in this field. His colleagues and students will continue the research that was his passion.”

A website has been set up in Paul Callaghan’s memory for messages of condolence –

Background and achievements

Professor Callaghan was a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and in 2001 became only the 36th New Zealander to be elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of London.

He was the first scientist outside of Europe to receive the prestigious Ampere Prize in 2004, and in 2010, the Alan MacDiarmid Professor of Physical Sciences won another major international award—the Günther Laukien Prize for Magnetic Resonance. In late 2011 he was made an Honorary Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Nationally, his achievements were recognised with the Rutherford Medal in 2005, New Zealand’s highest accolade for science and the Sir Peter Blake Medal for Leadership in 2007. He led Victoria’s Magnetic Resonance Imaging Team that won the Prime Minister’s Science Prize in 2010, and he was named New Zealander of the Year in 2011.

In 2006 he was appointed a Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit and, with the restoration of traditional honours, was knighted in 2009.

Born in Wanganui in 1947, Professor Callaghan later studied at Victoria University before heading to the University of Oxford where he attained both Doctor of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees.

One of a generation of scientists who chose to conduct their research in this country, he returned to New Zealand to Massey University where he began researching the applications of magnetic resonance to the study of soft matter.

He joined Victoria in 2001 and in 2002 became the inaugural Director of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, New Zealand’s first Centre of Research Excellence.


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