Sunday, April 14, 2013

Alan MacDiarmid

Alan Graham MacDiarmid was born in Masterton, New Zealand on April 14, 1927. His was one of five children. His family was poor and his father, an engineer was unemployed during the great depression of the 1930s. The family moved to Lower Hutt, closer to Wellington where work was believed to be more plentiful. MacDiamid became interested in chemistry as a child from reading his father's chemistry text and books he checked out from a local library. During a Guy Fawkes Day celebration he produced his own fireworks. After attending Hutt Valley High School, he entered Victoria University in Wellington in 1943. He took work there as a lab boy and finished his BSc in 1947. He remained at Victoria University as a graduate student, finishing his MSc. He attended the University of Wisconsin Madison on a Fullbright Fellowship, earning a MS in 1952 and a PhD in 1953. He earned a second PhD from Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge in 1955. After finishing his second doctorate he was a member of the junior faculty for a year at the University of St. Andrews and then became a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, were he remained for the majority of his career. In 2002 he joined the faculty at the University of Texas, Dallas.

MacDiarmid's research focused on the chemistry of silicon and non-metallic conductors. Metals (elements in the metallic region of the periodic table) are good conductors of electricity. Non-metallic elements, such as carbon, do not conduct electricity. (see here for an blog post on metal and non-metal elements) Mac Diarmid's lab developed carbon polymers that were able to conduct electricity. They developed polyacetylene, a carbon polymer, that was able to conduct electricity.  They determined that the reason the normally non-conductive carbon polymer was able to conduct electricity  were due to impurities, such as the catalyst used to create the polymer. They learned to "dope" the polymers they created, creating polymers that had widely ranging electrical conductivities. Since their discovery conductive polymers have been developed and used to make electrical capacitors that could be used as environmentally friendly batteries. For his work discovering conductive polymers, MacDiamid shared the 2000 Nobel Prize in chemistry with Alan Heeger and Hideki Shirakawa.

Other honors won by MacDiamid include the Rutherford Medal from the Royal Society of New Zealand, the American Chemical Society's materials award, and the Order of New Zealand.

MacDiamid died on Febrary 7, 2007.


Callaghan, Paul: "MacDiamid, Alan Graham: 1927-2007"; in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography retrieved from

MacDiamid, Alan; Nobel Autobiography

Alan MacDiamid Wikipedia entry

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