NZ-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > NZ-OBITS > 2007-02 > 1171215409
From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [NZ-OBITS] MACDIARMID: Alan Graham MacDiarmid 7/2/2007
Date: Sun, 11 Feb 2007 09:36:49 -0800
Last Updated: 1:22am GMT 09/02/2007
Alan MacDiarmid, who died on Wednesday aged 79, won the 2000 Nobel Prize for
Chemistry, jointly with Alan Heeger and Hideki Shirakawa, for the
development of conductive polymers - plastics that conduct electricity.
Plastics do not generally conduct electricity and have traditionally been
used as insulators. MacDiarmid and his colleagues discovered that a thin
film of the polymer polyacetylene could be oxidised using iodine vapour,
increasing its conductivity a billion times.
The discovery made possible the development of a new range of conductive
plastics which have many useful applications, including reducing static
electricity and interference on photographic film and television screens,
and "smart windows" that can exclude sunlight.
It has also led to the development of semi-conductive polymers in organic
light-emitting diodes, in solar cells and for displays on mobile phones and
mini-format television screens. The technology is also at the forefront of
the latest nanotech research, which offers the potential to reduce the size
of circuitry used in computers to the scale of atoms and molecules.
The youngest of five children of a marine engineer, Alan Graham MacDiarmid
was born on April 14 1927 at Masterton, on the North Island of New Zealand.
His father lost his job during the Depression, and the family moved to the
Hutt Valley near Wellington so that he and the older children could look for
work. But the family remained so poor that they had neither a telephone nor
a refrigerator, and Alan attended primary school barefoot.
His interest in chemistry was kindled after he opened one of his father's
old chemistry textbooks, dating from around 1800, and he began to teach
himself from books borrowed from the local library. His family could not
afford to support him through university so, after leaving Hutt Valley High
School aged 16, he took a part-time job as a janitor in the chemistry
department at Victoria University College. He became a part-time student and
eventually graduated with a First in Chemistry in 1951.
He won a Fulbright Scholarship to do a doctorate on the properties of
complex metal cyanides under Professor Norris Hall at the University of
Wisconsin, and then a New Zealand Shell Graduate Scholarship to study
silicon hydrides at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, under HJ Emeleus.
After a short time teaching at St Andrews University, he moved to the
University of Pennsylvania, where he became a Professor of Organic Chemistry
and eventually took American citizenship.
The discovery that won him the Nobel Prize took place almost by chance in
the 1970s, after a researcher in the laboratory of Hideki Shirakawa, of the
University of Tsukuba in Japan, misheard some instructions for the synthesis
of polyacetylene and made a form of the polymer that was silvery in
appearance. At about the same time, MacDiarmid and his colleague Alan Heeger
had also made silvery polymer films using strands of sulphur nitride.
When MacDiarmid met Shirakawa at a seminar in Tokyo, they agreed to work
together. They then made the discovery that by diffusing iodine into the
polyacetylene film its conductivity could be dramatically increased.
MacDiarmid explained that the iodine "pulls" some of the electrons out of
the plastic so that the remaining electrons are not so tightly packed.
MacDiarmid loved teaching young scientists, and continued to lecture and
teach into his seventies. Though he became an American, he retained his New
Zealand citizenship, always considered himself a New Zealander and was a
keen naturist. In 2001 he was appointed a Member of the Order of New
Alan MacDiarmid married first, in 1954, Marian Mathieu, with whom he had
three daughters and a son. She died in 1990, and he married secondly, in
2005, Gayl Gentile. She and his children survive him.
|[NZ-OBITS] MACDIARMID: Alan Graham MacDiarmid 7/2/2007 by "Peter McCrae" <>|