School of Chemical and Physical Sciences

2006 News

Nanoparticles as Colourants for High Fashion Textiles

December 2006

Professor Jim Johnston, Dr Michael Richardson (Postdoctoral Fellow) and Fern Kelly (PhD student) are carrying out research into the use of gold and silver nanoparticles as stable colourants on fabrics, particularly merino wool in high quality fashion garments, thereby linking the inherent high prestige status of gold with quality and high value fashion.

Gold nanoparticle colourants have the advantage that they cannot fade or denature in light, as traditional organic dyes can. The silver nanoparticles also exhibit anti‑microbial functionality.

Gold occupies a premier position in the world economy and society representing high value and quality.

In monetary and jewellery applications it is used in the traditional yellow coloured bulk metallic form. However, as the particle size of gold is reduced to the colloidal and nanosize range of a few tens of nanometres, strong visible absorptions take place giving rise to a variety of colours depending on the actual size and shape of the nanoparticles. The colour is due to the physical phenomenon of the surface plasmon resonance effects. Gold nanoparticles about 2‑10nm in size are red. As the nanoparticle size increases the colour shifts from red through orange to yellow to blue.

The research is being carried out in collaboration with Canesis Network Ltd. in Christchurch and Australian Wool Innovations. It was presented recently by Jim and Fern as an invited talk at the UK Institute of Nanotechnology Nanotechnologies and Smart Textiles for Industry and Fashion meeting in London and received intense interest from high profile brand name and high fashion garment manufacturers.

Launch of the Te Reo Maori Physics Project

November 2006

An exciting project aimed at engaging Maori pupils and their whanau in physics was publicly launched by the Maori Affairs Minister Hon Parekura Horomia at the Physics Teachers Picnic hosted by the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences (SCPS) on 24 November.

The project involves the development of multimedia teaching resources centred around physics demonstrations, performed by kura pupils, and purposebuilt for the New Zealand physics and science curricula. The project was a cooperative effort between pupils, teachers and whanau from the Wellington‑area Te Kura Maori o Porirua and Te Ara Whanui; well‑known members of the Maori community, staff and students from Victoria University's Te Kawa a Maui (School of Maori Studies), Te Herenga Waka Marae, the Faculty of Science Equity area, and SCPS.

The resources can be viewed at We hope to begin a second and larger phase of the project next year.

Robots Do Battle - Inaugural Mechatronics Competition 2006

October 2006

The Inaugural Mechatronics Robot Competition was held in front of a large crowd of students, academics, and family and friends in October. The competition was developed by Associate Professor Dale Carnegie as a way of testing the fourth year mechatronics students in a way that was not only entertaining, but also gave the students valuable, practical experience in robotic design and control.

As part of the MSc in Electronic and Computer Systems Engineering, two new fourth year mechatronics papers were created in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences. The competition stems from these papers ‑ one paper focuses on advanced aspects of hardware and control, the other on mechanical, artificial intelligence, and design considerations. The second paper has noteworthy input from Computer Science and Industrial Design.

A significant portion of the final marks for the paper on Intelligence and Design was based on the competition, and on the students ability to construct a robot and provide it with the intelligence to gather pucks distributed throughout a 3m x 3m playing area and deposit them in a specially marked goal. The robots competed against each other, with up to four robots in the arena at any one time. Points were awarded for successfully locating a puck and scoring a goal. Bonus points were awarded for physically disabling any of the opposition robots.

Final assessment grades were strongly influenced by the robots placing in the competition, a factor that spurred the students on to even greater efforts. Using the new advanced Lego system, incorporating a 32 bit microcontroller, six teams competed over nearly two hours. With names such as Insomnia II, BotChoy, BigMama and Playbot, the designs were hugely varied. Some teams created a robot that split into two, one scoring goals, the other trying to knock out the competitors. Other students went for a large, solid (supposedly unbreakable) design.

In the final trophy playoff, Playbot, with its rabbit ears and pink tutu, triumphed to the approval of the crowd of supporters. Playbots designers, Aleksander Ristic and Ramon Steenson, collected first prize and the victors trophy.

This competition, requiring students to design an integrated mechanical, electronic and artificial intelligence robot will be a regular feature of the mechatronics programme. The students are demonstrating the same skills that are required to create DVD players, washing machines, automatic vacuum cleaners and industrial robots. We look forward to the competition growing in difficulty each year with increasingly large audiences, and perhaps even entries from the wider community.

Ministerial Visit to MacDiarmid Institute at SCPS

June 2006

The Minister of Tertiary Education, Hon Dr Michael Cullen, visited the MacDiarmid Institute at the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences on 22 June to learn more about its activities, and to visit a sample laboratory.

Presentations were made by Institute staff and the Vice‑Chancellors from both Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Canterbury. SCPS academic and Director of the MacDiarmid Institute, Professor Paul Callaghan, also gave a presentation.

The visit concluded with a look in Pablo Etchegoins Raman laboratory, where Dr Cullen learned about the latest developments in single molecule detection.

SCPS Researchers help find first Cool Planet

February 2006

Two researchers from the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, along with colleagues from Auckland, Canterbury and Massey universities, are part of a 12 country study that has discovered a new extrasolar planet about five times the mass of the Earth. The planet is smaller than Neptune and is the first cool planet to be found.

The multinational team includes Dr Denis Sullivan and PhD student Aarno Korpela, and the discovery was published in leading international science journal, Nature.

To find the planet the researchers used a technique called 'gravitational microlensing' which uses the gravitational fields of stars as huge naturally occurring lenses. This method was originally proposed by Albert Einstein but he thought that gravitational lenses would be too rare to be of practical value.

The new generation electronic cameras and telescopes operated in survey mode have changed this. Dr Sullivan says the latest find brings the goal of locating a habitable planet outside our solar system a step closer. In the past decade, over 150 extrasolar planets have been discovered, including a few by the microlensing method, but all of them are gas giants like Jupiter or even Neptune and are in close orbits around their host star. Therefore they are much too hot to sustain life.

Our new planet orbits a cool 'red dwarf' star at a distance about three times the distance between the Sun and Earth and has a temperature of about ‑220 C, which is too cold to sustain life. The planet will consist of rock and/or ice.

New Year Honours for Victoria University Physicist

January 2006

In the New Year Honours list 2006, Professor Paul Callaghan FRSNZ was appointed as a Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (PCNZM), the highest rank in the order. Paul is the Alan MacDiarmid Professor of Physical Sciences in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, as well as the Director of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology based at SCPS. Paul holds Doctor of Philosophy and Doctor of Science degrees from Oxford University, and he is a fellow of both the Royal Society of London and the Royal Society of New Zealand.

In 2004, Paul was the first scientist outside of Europe to receive the prestigious Ampere Prize for his research in magnetic resonance. In 2005 he received New Zealands highest scientific honour, the Rutherford Medal, from the Royal Society of New Zealand. In November this year Professor Callaghan was ranked 28 in the Listeners Power 2006 list and has been credited with lifting the profile of science through his many media appearances and his weekly chats on National Radio.