When it comes to science there’s often a focus on the ‘new’; the most current, the latest (research, funds, etc). It can be easy to forget how success is built on the ongoing support of others. Few of the achievements of the MacDiarmid would be possible without the people who worked for years to grow and nurture the Institute. Many of them now stand as Emeritus Investigators (EI), guiding and mentoring those who are newer to the MacDiarmid.
Professor Jeff Tallon, Professor of Physics at Victoria University of Wellington, based at the Robinson Research Institute sees the role of an EI as one of piloting new MacDiarmid Investigators in their research. “Over a period of time you acquire a pretty good grasp of the breadth and range of issues and also the ability to bring disparate ideas and research together. You can be a bit of a glue within the Institute. So I’ve done quite a bit of that in recent years—linking up people I never would have before—chemistry, materials, nanotechnology, together with my research field of superconductors.”
Professor Tallon has been with MacDiarmid right from its inception and wrote part of the original bid with Sir Paul Callaghan. He says he has seen the difference the MacDiarmid made over time. “The MacDiarmid breaks boundaries between institutions and disciplines. It has enabled many disparate groups and research topics to somehow come together over the years. This didn’t happen immediately; for the first six years everyone continued to do what they used to do. But research slowly cross-pollinated. It’s very rich now. It’s a broad-based dynamic, based not just on research, but reaching out to the public and schools. Both AMN7 and AMN8 were were terrific illustrations of this—there is terrific new stuff going on. Longevity gives this strength. It would be a big step backwards to lose the dynamic that’s been built up.”
He says he had a mentoring role right from the beginning but that this cemented in over time. “At my stage the question is not how the MacDiarmid can be useful to me but the other way around—what contribution can I make to enriching the work of others? I‘ve had my time of benefit. It’s really important now that I work to make a richer environment for others, put students from different themes together with senior researchers in other themes. We as EIs have a responsibility to stretch the horizons of the younger researchers, especially students and postdocs.”
You can be a bit of a glue within the Institute.
Professor Jeff Tallon
For MacDiarmid Associate Investigator and Robinson Research Institute scientist Dr Shen Chong, having Professor Tallon as a mentor has been critical. “The sheer knowledge and experience Jeff brings to my work is invaluable. He gives advice on my research and how to apply for funding and how to run things in general. And because of his wider links he puts me in touch with people I need to collaborate with, through the MacDiarmid.” Dr Chong, who won a 2016 Marsden grant for nanostructuring in iron-based wires for ultra-high current density, said that it is great having Professor Tallon active within the Institute’s research theme ‘Tomorrow’s Electronic Devices’. “Jeff is still keen to give ideas and encourage the rest of us within the theme.”
Emeritus Investigator Professor Simon Hall has similar views to Jeff Tallon’s. Simon offered to move to EI status in 2015 after changes to his role at Massey University. He still attends MacDiarmid Energy theme meetings, sharing his ideas and thoughts about commercialisation of energy technology. “Part of staying on as an EI has got to be about contributing back. I definitely see myself having a role within the broader Institute in terms of mentoring younger researchers.”
Four MacDiarmid Emeritus Investigators are in senior executive leadership positions within New Zealand universities; Professor Richard Blaikie is Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Otago, Professor Jim Metson is Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Auckland, Professor Kate McGrath is Vice-Provost Research at Victoria University of Wellington and Professor Simon Hall is Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Sciences at Massey University. Professors Blaikie and McGrath are both former directors of the MacDiarmid Institute.
The sheer knowledge and experience Jeff brings to my work is invaluable.
Dr Shen Chong