A Golden Opportunity

Chemists Kerstin Lucas and Fern Kelly – PhD apprentices to Professor Jim Johnston, a Principal Investigator in the MacDiarmid Institute and master of the secret art of bonding gold and silver atoms to merino wool – linked up with Massey fashion students last year to imagine garments rendered in this luxurious product.

Fern presented the science behind it, and the environmental and colourfast virtues of the wool, to Massey students and offered a competition incentive for them to design a range ofgarments or textiles appropriate to the high value of the wool. After Fern left for Europe to pursue Postdoctoral studies, Kerstin, who had just submitted her PhD thesis, took up the reins and managed the interaction with Massey University, as well as contributing to the further development of the nanoscience and sample production.

The competition finalists presented their work in a fashion show at the Michael Fowler Centre, an exciting and unusual opening to 2011 International Year of Chemistry, which was staged in association with the MacDiarmid Institute’s AMN-5 Conference.

The MacDiarmid Institute contributed to the prize, won by Taranaki student Greer Osborne: a trip to the UK to visit some of the top textile design and fashion houses in Yorkshire and London. Her outstanding collection was represented in the Show by a stylish and ‘wearable’ cropped, looped wool jacket.

The garment that ‘wowed’ the audience was a sumptuous gold satin gown with an outsize multi-leaved wrap, intended to be made in the merino gold. It was modeled in spectacular fashion the following day by Kerstin, before an appreciative audience of 1400 senior secondary students from the lower North Island. The fashion show was repeated as part of the Chemistry Variety Show for Year 12 and 13 students, but with chemists as models.  Dr John Watt received wild applause as he took his turn on stage, revealing a sexy undergarment with designer holes.

The Show was a joint effort by Victoria and Canterbury Universities, NZ Institute of Chemistry, and the MacDiarmid Institute; its success was largely due to the efforts of Dr Suzanne Boniface, a Senior Teaching Fellow in Chemistry at Victoria University.

Jim and his team are continuing to work on upscaling production of the merino gold and silver. They are developing garment and carpet products, with the aim of commercializing the technology and product suite for high value international markets.