Kōrero: MacDiarmid, Alan Graham

Whārangi 5: Connections to New Zealand

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

MacDiarmid, Alan Graham


Chemist, scientist

I tuhia tēnei haurongo e Paul Callaghan, ā, i tāngia tuatahitia i runga i te ipurangi i 2011.

Alan MacDiarmid’s connections with New Zealand remained strong. He maintained close ties with his family. He was a supporter of New Zealand science and in Pennsylvania hosted New Zealand researchers whose interests overlapped with his own. Victoria University of Wellington recognised his achievements in advance of his Nobel success, with the award of an honorary doctorate in 1999. When the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology was formed in 2002, MacDiarmid became a mentor and, with Gayl Gentile, whom he married in Philadelphia on 5 June 2005, was a regular visitor and friend to Institute members.

Following his Nobel award, MacDiarmid became a household name. His lecture tour of New Zealand in 2001 drew capacity audiences, his storytelling ability and warm personality captivating those who heard him. More than any scientist since Ernest Rutherford, MacDiarmid raised the profile of science in his home country, showing New Zealand scientists the importance of communicating to society at large. He received the highest honours New Zealand could bestow. The Royal Society of New Zealand made him an Honorary Fellow and awarded him the Rutherford Medal in 2000, and he became a member of the Order of New Zealand in 2002. Victoria University of Wellington named a new science building, completed in 2010, after him.

Illness and death

Towards the end of his life MacDiarmid became ill with myelodysplastic syndrome. He died on 7 February 2007 at the age of 79, following a fall at his home in Philadelphia. He was due to fly to New Zealand later that day to attend an International Conference on Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology in Wellington.


Alan MacDiarmid was much loved by fellow scientists, and greatly admired in New Zealand, where he would extol investment in innovation, challenging people to consider whether the country would lead or follow in science and technology in the 21st century. He had the great scientist's instinct; he knew his craft, but most importantly he understood its context. He thought about the great problems facing the world and became especially interested in energy issues in his later years.

MacDiarmid communicated with clarity and style. He saw science as one of the greatest of human endeavours, carried out by people working in partnership – as he used to say, ‘Science is people.’

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Paul Callaghan. 'MacDiarmid, Alan Graham - Connections to New Zealand', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2011. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/mi/biographies/6m2/macdiarmid-alan-graham/page-5 (accessed 9 April 2020)