School of Chemical and Physical Sciences

John Watt

August 2009

John Watt, a PhD student working with Dr Richard Tilley in School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, won the MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year and the Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize for 2009.

“The prizes have given me great exposure and I look forward to staying on in New Zealand to continue my work” John says.

The Young Scientist competition is run annually and is open to postgraduates undertaking research and involves candidates presenting their work to various audiences, including a high school audience and a panel of five judges. There were 120 entries in 2009.

“My research is focussed on the size and shape control of nanoparticles - we make them in solution using chemical techniques. On the nanoscale, the shape of the particle becomes really important in determining the properties of the material. With silicon for example, just by changing their shape, nanoparticles change from bright blue to bright yellow – right across the colour spectrum.”

John was born and educated in Napier and studied at Massey University before working in Melbourne for two years. He was drawn back to Wellington for the lifestyle and by an interest in Richard Tilley’s nanotechnology research.  

“Dr Tilley has been brilliant and a true mentor in terms of what I’ve learned not only about nanoparticle research but also about the ‘business of science’ and how to develop a career in science. I was very pleased to see him recognised with the Easterfield Medal this year too.”

“The School of Chemical and Physical Sciences is very strong. There's some world leading work being done here by some top researchers. The research environment is very supportive and we've got excellent instrumentation available. We're definitely leading the way in solution phase synthesis of nano-particles globally.”

“There are a lot of commercial applications for our research. I'm working on palladium, which is used in car catalytic converters, so my work is directly applicable to that industry. Nanoparticles are also being developed for use as MRI contrast agents and attached to paint particles and used as solar cells for houses. The applications for nanoparticles are immense.”

For more information visit:

Nanoparticle and Quantum Dot Research Group
MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year Awards Newsletter, October 2009