New IAB Chair
Distinguished scientist and new MacDiarmid Institute International Advisory Board Chair, Dr Jeff Tallon spent his formative years mucking about in sheds with crystal sets and Popular Mechanics, taking things apart and figuring out how to put them back again. This quintessential Kiwi childhood has led to an international career at the vanguard of superconductor research, and an unbridled passion for science.
When Jeff was in form two (year 8 in today’s terms), his intermediate school had a fully-equipped science lab and no teachers qualified to use it, so Jeff and a friend asked the teachers if they could. Soon the boys were demonstrating chemical reactions to their classmates and teachers. This self-actualised learning continued into his high school years, as he and two classmates, eager to study physics despite the lack of qualified teachers, ordered level 1 University textbooks and worked their way through the course. Jeff and his physics crew were sixth, seventh and eighth in the Scholarship exams that year.
It is then little wonder that a man who describes science as ‘coursing through his veins’ has been appointed as Chair of the MacDiarmid Institute’s International Advisory Board. Jeff’s 46-year career as a research scientist has been dedicated to searching out, much as he did as a boy, the best of scientific research, collaboration, and innovation, developing a huge sense of personal satisfaction from the projects he’s worked on, the young scientists he’s mentored and developed, and the technological advances he’s been part of developing.
With the wisdom that comes from having been employed at the same institution through at least three name changes – DSIR Physics and Engineering Laboratory, Industrial Research Limited, Callaghan Innovation – Jeff is convinced that the greatest impact of New Zealand government investment in commercially-focused scientific research has been inventions like Bill Robinson’s lead rubber bearing seismic isolation devices, which are used in buildings worth over $100 billion US all over the world. Their inclusion in Christchurch’s Women’s Hospital (the only building in the city to utilise the technology) enabled the hospital to remain operable despite the earthquake devastation in much of the rest of the city after the 2010 and 2011 quakes. It seems entirely appropriate that Jeff would choose this, an example of a project he worked on as a young scientist that applied physics to a local problem, and resulted in a global impact.
Jeff’s career has been one grounded within the New Zealand science system while simultaneously forging the international linkages and profile that enable him to lead the International Board into the next phase of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Material and Nanotechnology. As one of those involved in drafting the initial bid back in 2001, Jeff’s life-long focus on both excellent science and communicating that science to the public, has influenced the commitment the MacDiarmid Institute has to engendering a passion for science and innovation across society. He’s at his enthusiastic best when explaining the thrill of scientific discovery – that human beings have constructed abstract theories about the universe that are then proven to be true. He reminds us that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity encapsulates the existence of black holes, but that black holes were not proven to exist until fifty years later; or that the Higgs particle was accurately predicted in 1964, and tentatively proven in 2013. It is this passionate sense of awe for the ways in which science explains the universe that set Jeff on a trajectory through science for the benefit of New Zealand that has led him here, chairing the Board that sets the tone for the next phase of the MacDiarmid Institute.