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Philippa Wiggins

Philippa Wiggins. Source: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. Ref: PA1-q-1057.

Physical Chemist (1925-2017)

Philippa Wiggins chose to study science at university because of her frustration at not being exposed to any at school. Then, she would have chosen to continue in physics, but at Canterbury at the time women were not allowed to move beyond stage one physics. Instead Wiggins studied chemistry, going on to gain a PhD from Kings’ College London. Wiggins took time off for children, returned part-time after being persuaded to do so by a colleague’s wife and didn’t work full-time again until age 48.1

But when she did she was able to work out more fully her most important discovery – that water exists in two distinct forms, which is crucial to our understanding of how the water inside living cells works. Wiggins was able to explain many phenomena and later in life worked with companies on applications to her theories. She continued publishing into her 80s and had 40 patents to her name.2  


1. Paula Martin, ‘Profiles of Senior New Zealand Women in Science’, Lives with Science, 1993, p 34.

2. ‘Philippa Wiggins - Liquid Water Consists of Two Structures Similar to Ice and Vapour in Equilibrium.’, accessed 24 September 2017, http://www.philippawiggins.com/.

This profile is part of the series 150 Women in 150 Words that celebrates women’s contributions to expanding knowledge in New Zealand, running as part of our 150th Anniversary.