John McKinnon’s election to Fellowship of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1995 recognised his extensive contributions to the technology of the wool processing industry over nearly 30 years.
After undergraduate study at Victoria and Auckland, he graduated B Sc in chemistry in 1962, and followed this with a Masters (1st Class Hons) in crystallography, under Neil Waters and David Hall. In 1963, having received a Ph D Fellowship from the nascent Wool Research Organisation of New Zealand, he began a Ph D in polymer science, studying polypeptide materials, at Princeton University, under the late Arthur V Tobolsky. In 1967 he returned to the staff of WRONZ at Lincoln, and save for the occasional spell overseas, has worked there since, through the recent metamorphosis of WRONZ into Canesis Network Ltd. He retired as General Manager, Corporate Research, at Canesis in 2004, but still works part time as a Senior Distinguished Researcher.
Most of John’s career was involved with the creation of new technologies for the cross-bred wool industry, especially in the wet processing and mechanical handling of carpet yarns, in relating yarn structure and processing to performance characteristics in carpets, and in enhancing and modifying scoured wool production. His most recognised achievement (through his team) is the Chemset (or Twistset) package-to- package carpet yarn wet processing system, a revolutionary engineering development which helped place New Zealand spinners at the forefront of global producers of wool carpet yarns. For many years he led a large team of chemists and engineers creating new technology at all stages of the value chain, and in the ’90s decade was instrumental in diversifying research activities into keratin biopolymers, diversified protein chemistry and proteomics research, and fibre ultrastructure. He was a key Canesis link in the formation of Biopolymer Network Ltd by Canesis, Scion, and Crop and Food.
Throughout a career in technology John retained a keen interest in the science basics, and for the last few years has been exploring the fundamental self-assembly processes in fibril-matrix biological composites such as those occurring in wool and hair. In this work he has produced some completely novel insights into how such structures develop.