Four New AIs

Four New AIs

Penny Brothers was appointed an AI in February 2012.  She was born and grew up in Auckland, New Zealand, and completed BSc and MSc(Hons) degrees in chemistry at the University of Auckland. In 1979 she was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and set off for Stanford University to begin a PhD in chemistry under the supervision of Professor Jim Collman.

Penny’s PhD thesis, and much of her subsequent research work, has centered around the chemistry of porphyrin complexes. In 1986 she returned to Auckland and spent two years working as a postdoctoral fellow with Professor Warren Roper in the Department of Chemistry, focusing on organometallic chemistry.

In 1988 she took up her current academic position at the University of Auckland, and was promoted to Professor in 2009. She has been a visiting scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory (2003, 2005, 2007) and a visiting professor at the University of California at Davis (1993), the University of Heidelberg (2003), the University of Burgundy (2004, 2006) and the University of Münster (2010). She was awarded a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award in 2007. She is a member of the Chemical Communications Editorial Board. Her current research brings together her interests in porphyrin chemistry, the main group elements and organometallic chemistry. She investigates how porphyrin and corrole ligands can be used to modify the chemistry of elements such as boron and bismuth, and has a broad interest in coordination chemistry of the transition metals and main group elements. She has a number of research collaborations in New Zealand and internationally.


Aaron Marshall was appointed an AI in June 2012.  His research interests are based around electrochemical engineering, including hydrogen production and fuel cell technology, and the utilisation of nanomaterials in these technologies.  The majority of Aaron’s work focuses on electro-catalysis, particularly understanding the structural and electronic factors behind electro-catalytic activity. This involves the synthesis of electro-catalytic materials (normally wet-chemical, bottom up approaches) followed by detailed physicochemical analysis using x-ray diffraction, x-ray absorption spectroscopy, x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and electron microscopy, before using an array of electrochemical techniques to characterise the electro-catalytic activity of the materials. Ultimately, Aaron’s goal is to develop better electro-catalysts by using fundamental understanding of what makes electro-catalysts more active, rather than the more traditional “trial and error” approach. This is a major goal of fundamental energy research (Whitesides & Crabtree, Science, 2007, 315, p796). To date, Aaron’s research has focused predominantly on the oxygen evolution reaction in both acidic and alkaline electrolytes on nanostructured conductive metal oxides such as IrO2, RuO2, Co3O4 and various Ni oxides but more recently, Aaron has been collaborating with Vladimir Golovko on Au based clusters for electro-catalytic glycerol oxidation.



Volker Nock was appointed an AI in February 2012.  He received the Dipl.-Ing. degree in microsystem technology from the Institute for Microsystem Technology (IMTEK) at the Albert-Ludwigs University of Freiburg, Germany in 2005. He wrote his diploma thesis on single-use valves and pumps for transdermal drug delivery at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2009 he received a Ph.D. degree in electrical and electronic engineering from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. His dissertation focused on the control and measurement of dissolved oxygen in microfluidic bioreactors. From 2009 to 2012 he was a MacDiarmid Institute and Marsden Research Fellow at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Volker is currently working as a Lecturer in the Department and, as well as being an Associate Investigator with the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, he is also a Principal Investigator with the Biomolecular Interactions Centre.

His research interests include micro- and nanofabrication, surface patterning and the application of microfluidics to Lab-on-a-Chip devices. Major research projects he is currently involved in investigate the use of microfluidics to improve the Bioimprint cellular replication and imaging process; force patterns in moving C. elegans using elastomeric micropillars; chemical surface patterning using laminar flow microfluidics; and droplet coalescence and self-propelling in digital microfluidic. 


John Watt was appointed an AI in February 2012.  His research area is the synthesis, characterisation and catalytic studies of complex shaped nanostructures. The application of catalytically active metal nanostructures includes fuel cell catalysts, hydrogen storage and sensing applications. Nanoscale catalysts of platinum, gold, palladium and ruthenium currently hold much interest for these applications due to an increase in catalytic activity whilst reducing the amount of precious metal used. It is well known that by increasing the number of high index, high energy surfaces, the catalytic activity increases and that different crystallographic faces offer differing catalytic specificity. Therefore catalytically active nanostructures also allow for the tuning of activities and specificities by controlling the resulting shape.

Furthermore, bimetallic (core-shell or alloyed) nanostructures offer increased activity through catalytic synergy. Catalytic synergy occurs when two different catalytically active metals are in close contact with each other and can lead to huge improvements in activity when compared to individual metals. It can also lead to increases in stability and a lower operating temperature which is an advantage for the application of high surface area nanostructured catalysts.

Current focus is on bimetallic nanostructures formed through a galvanic exchange reaction. In this approach complex nanostructures are used as templates for the nucleation and growth of secondary metals on the surface while the template is sacrificed in the exchange. This will lead to complex nanostructures of a wide range of metals with fine control over their size and shape. Furthermore, the metal to metal ratio can be carefully controlled to investigate the effects of catalytic synergy. This work is in collaboration with Assoc Prof. Richard Tilley (PI).

Preliminary catalytic studies will be performed at Victoria University of Wellington with promising materials being forwarded to an international collaborator (Dr James Cookson, Johnson Matthey, UK) for extensive catalytic testing. I have visited Dr Cookson on two occasions setting up and building this collaboration. Certain nanostructures will also be characterised using synchrotron facilities (Dr Mike Toney, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory) and a double aberration corrected transmission electron microscope at Oxford University (Prof. Angus Kirkland).

John has also set up collaboration with ITEC Co, LTD. in Osaka, Japan. A company who possess continuous flow technology for the synthesis of nanoparticles. In 2012 I will build this collaboration working towards scale up.