School of Chemical and Physical Sciences

History

Thomas LabyThomas Laby, Victoria University's first chair of physics.

The names Kirk, Easterfield, Cotton and Laby are instantly recognisable to anyone who has studied at Victoria University. They are the buildings that house the Schools in the Faculty of Science, although few people may be aware of the men these buildings honour.

In 2010 we celebrated the centenary of the opening of the Physics department at Victoria University. The first Chair of Physics, Thomas Laby, was appointed in 1909. Laby came to New Zealand with a sterling reference from Ernest Rutherford with whom he had studied at Cambridge University.

Together with chemist Thomas Easterfield, geologist Charles Cotton and biologist Harry Kirk, Laby was determined to make Victoria the finest university in the country. The four scientists challenged both the government and university executive, shaking up the system of university education in New Zealand. They rallied against the traditional examination system - one which meant students spent little time in the laboratory - and successfully established the legacy of academic research and industry cooperation that Victoria prides itself upon today.

It is particularly fitting that 2010 also witnessed the opening of the Alan MacDiarmid Building. Alan began his career in chemistry at Victoria University in the 1940s and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2000. Now his name joins those of Laby, Kirk, Easterfield and Cotton as pioneering scientists that Victoria University will always honour and remember.

For more on the history of chemistry and physics at Victoria please click on the following links: