Going for Gold – Dr Andrea Kolb

Story by Vicki Hyde Nanotechnology provides a chance to change an ancient farm product, adding colour – and value – to the humble fleece. Andrea Kolb Interface Going For GoldHow to contribute further to the research programme of MacDiarmid Institute Principal Investigator, Professor Jim Johnston, has been on the mind of MacDiarmid Institute scientist Dr Andrea Kolb. Andrea recently completed her PhD research into using gold colloids of various colours as value-adding, non-fading colouring agents for wool fibres in an effort to extend the colour range, which is naturally of interest to the New Zealand wool industry. The research was commenced by Jim in 2006 who, together with earlier members of his research group over the ensuing years, has progressed this idea from laboratory scale to commercialisation in New Zealand and internationally. Although Andrea’s research has not been concerned with the development and commercialisation of the technology, she has carried out an innovative PhD research programme in the synthesis of nanogold of different shapes with the view to extending the colour range, facilitating a stronger nanogold-wool fibre chemical bond, and contributing to better understanding the fundamental science of this nanotechnology. Andrea has been intrigued by the possibilities of nanomaterials and nanotechnology since early in her studies, after hearing an inspirational talk on the topic in 2008 by Professor Johnston when she was an undergraduate at the University of Applied Sciences in Nuremberg. Jim finished off his presentation with a call for students to take up MacDiarmid Institute internships to come and study in New Zealand. “That was very appealing,” says Andrea. Not only would it give her a chance to travel and experience another country and culture, but it would also extend her academic work into fundamental research, an area not covered by her university. “It was a bit of an effort to organise the semester abroad but it was so worth it,” she says. Strong links had already been established between Victoria and Nuremberg Universities through Jim, as a number of German students had made the trip already, providing a source of positive information about the move and its potential. These students contributed to the research outputs of Professor Jim Johnston and Associate Professor Peter Northcote, carrying their internships and diploma theses under Jim and Peter’s supervision. After hearing these students’ experiences, Andrea applied for funding and received two stipends to finance her New Zealand-based studies. Andrea KolbAndrea took up a six-month internship at Victoria University of Wellington, and went on recently to successfully defend her PhD in Chemistry with a research focus on nanotechnology. Andrea’s work looks at extending the range of colours Jim’s team discovered nanoparticles can impart to wool. She has been investigating the fundamental principles of how gold particles are attracted to wool fibre and how they impart colour to produce a final eye-catching product unique to the New Zealand wool industry. Initial research by Professor Jim Johnston and earlier members of his research group had produced variants of pink, purple, red, blue grey and grey. “With the right process you can engineer the shape and size of the nanoparticles to tune their colours.” The research has resulted in blue gold nanoparticles being added to the colour range—“a popular colour in high fashion”. Andrea has appreciated the team environment she has found at the Institute, where she has worked closely with Jim as her PhD supervisor and, more recently, preparing papers together on her research. She has presented and discussed her research at a number of international conferences, which has been well received. She also talks enthusiastically to school students about the world of science and the excitement of research. Andrea had prepared to return to Germany after her PhD defence, booking flights and leaving her flat, but an offer to work in Dr Jonathan Halpert’s photovoltaic research group proved too tempting, so she put those plans on hold until the end of the year. After that, she’ll be looking at research opportunities available here and around the world. No doubt she’ll have an easy job finding her next appointment. Jim says of her: “She has an enquiring mind and has developed a wide range of research skills and contributed significantly to the science excellence and understanding in her field, relating particularly to fundamental and applied nanoscience and technology, which are attractive attributes to employers.” “I’ve enjoyed the challenge and the unknown, and the progress I’ve made personally and professionally. Working within the MacDiarmid Institute community has been a very rewarding experience.” I