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About Alan Graham MacDiarmid, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2000
Alan Graham MacDiarmid ONZ (April 14, 1927 – February 7, 2007) was a chemist, and one of three recipients of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2000.
He was born in Masterton, New Zealand as one of five children - three brothers and two sisters. His family was relatively poor, and the Great Depression made life difficult in Masterton, due to which his family shifted to Lower Hutt, a few miles from Wellington, New Zealand. At around age ten, he developed an interest in chemistry from one of his father's old textbooks, and he taught himself from this book and from library books. He was educated at Hutt Valley High School and Victoria University of Wellington.
In 1943, MacDiarmid passed the University of New Zealand's University Entrance Exam and its Medical Preliminary Exam. He then took up a part-time job as a "lab boy" or janitor in Victoria University of Wellington, during his studies for a BSc degree, which he completed in 1947. He was then appointed demonstrator in the undergraduate laboratories. After completing an MSc in chemistry from the same university, he later worked as an assistant in its chemistry department. It was here that he had his first publication in 1949, in the scientific journal Nature. He graduated in 1951 with first class honours, and won a Fulbright Fellowship to the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He majored in inorganic chemistry, receiving his M.S. degree in 1952 and his PhD in 1953. He then won a Shell Graduate Scholarship, which enabled him to go to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he completed a second PhD in 1955.
MacDiarmid worked in the School of Chemistry at the University of St Andrews in Scotland for a year as a member of the junior faculty. He then took a faculty position in chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, where he became a full Professor in 1964. MacDiarmid spent the greater part of his career on the chemistry faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught for 45 years. The first twenty years of his research there focused on silicon chemistry. He was named Blanchard Professor of Chemistry in 1988.
In 2002, MacDiarmid also joined the faculty of the University of Texas at Dallas.
Contributions to Chemistry
His best-known research was the discovery and development of conductive polymers — plastic materials that conduct electricity. He collaborated with the Japanese chemist Hideki Shirakawa and the American physicist Alan Heeger in this research. The three of them shared the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work.
The Nobel Prize was awarded for the discovery that plastics can, after certain modifications, be made electrically conductive. The work progressed to yield important practical applications. Conductive plastics can be used for anti-static substances for photographic film and 'smart' windows that can exclude sunlight. Semi-conductive polymers have been applied in light-emitting diodes, solar cells and displays in mobile telephones. Future developments in molecular electronics are predicted to dramatically increase the speed and reduce the size of computers.
MacDiarmid also traveled around the world for speaking engagements that impressed upon listeners the value of globalizing the effort of innovation in the 21st century. In one of his last courses, in 2001, MacDiarmid elected to lead a small seminar of incoming freshmen about his research activities. Overall, his name is on over 600 published papers and 20 patents.MacDiarmid was also active as a naturist and nudist, and considered himself a sun-worshipper and keen waterskier.
Towards the end of his life, MacDiarmid was ill with myelodysplastic syndrome. In early February 2007, he was planning to journey back to New Zealand, when he fell down the stairs in his home in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. He died on February 7, 2007. He is buried at Arlington Cemetery Co in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania.
MacDiarmid's first wife, Marian Mathieu, whom he had married in 1954, died in 1990. He is survived by four children: Heather McConnell, Dawn Hazelett, Duncan MacDiarmid and Gail Williams, from their marriage and nine grandchildren: Dr. Sean McConnell, Dr. Ryan McConnell, Rebecca McConnell, Clayton Hazelett, Wesley Hazelett, Langston MacDiarmid, Aubree Williams, Austin Williams and George Williams. MacDiarmid is also survived by his second wife, Gayl Gentile, whom he had married in 2005.
- Victoria University of Wellington gave MacDiarmid an honorary doctorate in 1999 and in 2001 created the Alan MacDiarmid Chair in Physical Chemistry. The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology and the Alan MacDiarmid building, opened in May 2010, at the university are named after him.
- Awarded the 1999 American Chemical Society Award in Materials Chemistry.
- In 2000 the Royal Society of New Zealand awarded him its top honour, the Rutherford Medal.
- In 2002, he was elected a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences.
- In 2002, he became a member of the Order of New Zealand, which is the highest honour the country awards.
- In 2004, he received the Friendship Award, the highest honor of the People's Republic of China for foreign experts.
- The Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute at the University of Texas at Dallas was named after him posthumously in 2007.
- The Alan G. MacDiarmid Institute at Jilin University in China was named after him since 2001.