Alan G. MacDiarmid
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Alan G. MacDiarmid begins the interview by discussing his childhood in New Zealand and goes on to describe how two books, both chemistry-related, sparked his interest in chemistry. Due to economic hardship, MacDiarmid juggled working and attending the University of New Zealand part time to complete his bachelor's and master's degree. Denied a scholarship to study in England, MacDiarmid came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a Fulbright Scholar to study inorganic chemistry. After obtaining a M.S. in 1952 and a PhD in 1953, MacDiarmid left Wisconsin and finally got to fulfill his dream of studying at the University of Cambridge under H. J. Emeleus. Focusing on inorganic chemistry, MacDiarmid obtained a PhD in 1955 and accepted a position at the University of Pennsylvania after a brief stint as assistant lecturer in the University of St. Andrews. MacDiarmid did his most seminal work at Penn, where he remained for fifty-plus year and is still a faculty member. His early research in America was funded by Cold War related projects overseen by government funding agencies such as the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Office of Naval Research. Then on a visit to Japan, MacDiarmid serendipitously met with Hideki Shirakawa, who was doing similar research on conductive metals. Over tea they discussed their work, and MacDiarmid invited Shirakawa to Philadelphia. It was there, collaborating with another Penn faculty member, Alan Heeger, that the three published influential works that led to the discovery of conducting polymers and their shared Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2000. MacDiarmid, an inorganic chemist, emphasized the importance of inter-disciplinary research with Shirakawa, an organic chemist; and Heeger, a physicist. MacDiarmid describes how interdisciplinarity can advance current research and promote innovation. He concludes the interview by suggesting possible future research directions and the need to decrease dependency on fossil fuels.
|1948||University of New Zealand||BSc||Chemistry|
|1950||University of New Zealand||MSc||Chemistry|
|1952||University of Wisconsin, Madison||MS||Chemistry|
|1953||University of Wisconsin, Madison||PhD||Inorganic Chemistry|
|1955||University of Cambridge||PhD||Inorganic Chemistry|
University of St. Andrews
University of Pennsylvania
University of Texas at Arlington
Philadelphia Section Award, American Chemical Society
Frederic Stanley Kipping Award, American Chemical Society
Madison Marshall Award, American Chemical Society
Doolittle Award, American Chemical Society
Royal Society of Chemistry Centenary Medal and Lectureship (UK)
Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists
Top 100 Innovation Award, Science Digest
John Scott Award, City of Philadelphia
Francis J. Clamer Award, The Franklin Institute
Chemistry of Materials Award, American Chemical Society
Nobel Prize in Chemistry (With Heeger, Shirakawa)
Rutherford Medal, The Royal Society of New Zealand
Member, Order of New Zealand
Member, National Academy of Engineering
Member, National Academy of Science
Fellow, Royal Society of London, England
Friendship Award, State Administration of Foreign Experts Bureau, P. R. China
Establishment of the Alan G. MacDiarmid Laboratories of Polymer Research, Karnatak University, India
Establishment of the MacDiarmid Institute of Innovation and Business,
Table of Contents
Growing up in New Zealand. Developing interest in chemistry. Early education. Economic hardship and having to work at a young age.
Studying part-time and working as lab boy and janitor. Influence of Bobby Monro and developing interest in inorganic chemistry. Master's thesis on sulfur nitride. Desire to study in England.
Fulbright Scholarship. Adapting to American educational system. Becoming a Knapp Fellow. Dissertation research on radioactive tracers under Norris Hall.
Initial impression. Influence of and working with H. J. Emeleus. Silicon hydride work. Reflection on social class structures.
Government funded work on propellants. Studying silicon analogues of carbon compounds. Nobel research on conducting polymers with Hideki Shirakawa and Alan Heeger. Importance of interdisciplinary research. Current research directions. Involvement with University of Texas and other institutions.
Outlook on future of polymers. Other applied research directions.
About the Interviewer
Cyrus Mody is an assistant professor of history at Rice University. Prior to that position he was the manager of the Nanotechnology and Innovation Studies programs in the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and materials engineering from Harvard University and a PhD in science and technology studies from Cornell. He was the 2004–2005 Gordon Cain Fellow at CHF before becoming a program manager. Mody has published widely on the history and sociology of materials science, instrumentation, and nanotechnology.