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2023 MacDiarmid Medal: Nanotechnology for a sustainable future

Professor Geoffrey Waterhouse has been awarded the MacDiarmid Medal by the Royal Society Te Apārangi for discovering low-cost nanocatalysts critical to global decarbonisation efforts and the establishment of robust energy infrastructures based around renewables.

The MacDiarmid Medal is awarded for outstanding scientific research that demonstrates the potential for application to human benefit.

Geoff is a Professor in the School of Chemical Sciences at the University of Auckland, a Principal Investigator for the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology and an Associate Investigator for the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies.

Geoff’s research focuses on the application of nanotechnology in catalysis, environmental monitoring, and therapeutics. His group aims to fast-track the growth of a Green Hydrogen Economy in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Internationally, Geoff is best known for groundbreaking research designing low-cost nanocatalysts that can replace expensive precious-metal catalysts, such as those containing platinum, in devices such as water electrolysers, fuels cells and rechargeable batteries. His nanocatalysts could potentially lower the manufacturing costs of these next-generation energy storage/conversion devices by up to 20%, sufficient to enable widespread technology adoption.

In addition, by actively seeking non-precious metal nanocatalysts, his research enables important commodity chemicals, such as ammonia and hydrogen peroxide, to be synthesized more sustainably and at lower cost compared to existing industrial processes.

He has published highly influential and paradigm shifting works in the field of catalysis, combining experiment and theory in novel ways to allow the operation of his catalysts to be understood at the nanoscale.

According to a referee: “Geoffrey’s research demonstrates how the smart use of nanotechnology can support New Zealand’s broader sustainability agenda.”

Another referee agrees: “He is stepping up in a field where New Zealand needs strong research leaders to meet its zero carbon economy goals.”

Impressively, the nanocatalysts produced by his group for one application often find other end uses, greatly extending his impact. For example, his nanocatalysts have been used to develop a suite of optical and electrochemical sensors for detection of heavy metals, pesticides and antibacterial drugs in water at low concentrations or alternatively have been incorporated into advanced oxidation processes to remove these threats. His nanomaterials have also been used to build biosensors for select detection of viruses and key biological markers and, more recently, used for cancer therapy and imaging of tumours.

The global impact of Geoff’s research has led to numerous awards in recent years, including the 2016 International Partnership Award for Young Scientists of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Clarivate Highly Cited Researcher (2019-now), the 2020 Maurice Wilkins Centre Prize for Excellence in Chemical Research, the 2021 University of Auckland Research Excellence Medal, the 2022 New Zealand Association of Scientist’s Shorland Medal and a James Cook Research Fellowship awarded in 2021. Since 2021 he has served as the New Zealand Delegate to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).

Geoffrey adds: “It is an honour to be this year’s recipient of the MacDiarmid Medal. In 2015, I made a conscious decision to align my group’s nanotechnology research with science plans of two New Zealand Centres of Research Excellence (MacDiarmid Institute and the Dodd-Walls Centre), as well as several of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly those related to energy, clean water and health. This strategic alignment has added extra purpose to my group’s New Zealand-based research, whilst also providing a scaffold to build productive international collaborations.

"Scientifically and socially, I’m very proud of what my research group and collaborators have been able to achieve together over the past 8-9 years and look forward to the next few decades as we transition to a zero-carbon Aotearoa and a prosperous society rooted in quality education, sustainable practices and environmental responsibility.”


MacDiarmid Medal:
The MacDiarmid Medal is awarded annually to a researcher whose work has the potential to deliver significant benefits for humanity.


To Geoffrey Waterhouse for discovering low-cost nanocatalysts critical to global decarbonisation efforts and the creation of robust energy infrastructures based around renewables.