Alison Downard – Taking a Circuitous Route
An electrochemist, with a particular interest in surface science with a nanotechnology focus, Alison Downard’s first couple of years of undergrad were in the Department of Home Science at the University of Otago. This was in the 1970s, when a home science qualification was compulsory for those interested in becoming a dietician, as she was. Alison had enjoyed science at school, but after her second year, she discovered that what she really loved was chemistry, so decided to swap to a straight science degree, completing 2 more years and graduating with a BSc Hons. She undertook a PhD in synthetic chemistry at the University of Otago, realising during the conduct of her research that synthetic chemistry was “not for me.” Fortunately, as a postdoctoral fellow she was offered the opportunity to do some electrochemistry, and this was the clincher –electrochemistry became her field. She returned to New Zealand, to the University of Canterbury, where she began developing her independent research career Electrochemistry, which investigates chemical reactions taking place in solution at the interface of an electron conductor and an ionic conductor, has developed hugely important applications, initially in the areas of coatings via electrodeposition, and, where Alison’s work now focuses, on the area of electrochemistry for surface modification at molecular and nano levels.. Alison’s pathway to a specialisation in surface modification was serendipitous, in the best sense of the word – involving both accidents and sagacity. It’s easy to see why she applauds the broad grounding PhD students at the MacDiarmid Institute get, and the multiple exposures to different kinds of science, and different equipment. Alison knows that it can take years to figure out exactly what it is in this science venture that excites you the most and she’s proud of the fact that Institute students have the opportunities they need to explore fields beyond those they are currently working in.