Alan MacDiarmid
Alan MacDiarmid in Beijing, China, 2005
Alan Graham MacDiarmid

14 April 1927
Masterton, New Zealand
Died7 February 2007 (aged 79)
NationalityNew Zealand, United States
Alma mater
Scientific career
ThesisThe chemistry of some new derivatives of the silyl radical (1955)

Alan Graham MacDiarmid, ONZ FRS[2][1] (14 April 1927 – 7 February 2007) was a New Zealand-born American chemist, and one of three recipients of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2000.[3][4][5][6]

Early life and education

MacDiarmid was born in Masterton, New Zealand as one of five children – three brothers and two sisters. His family was relatively poor, and the Great Depression made life difficult in Masterton, due to which his family shifted to Lower Hutt, a few miles from Wellington, New Zealand. At around age ten, he developed an interest in chemistry from one of his father's old textbooks, and he taught himself from this book and from library books.

MacDiarmid was educated at Hutt Valley High School and Victoria University of Wellington.[7]

In 1943, MacDiarmid passed the University of New Zealand's University Entrance Exam and its Medical Preliminary Exam.[8] He then took up a part-time job as a "lab boy" or janitor at Victoria University of Wellington during his studies for a BSc degree, which he completed in 1947.[8] He was then appointed demonstrator in the undergraduate laboratories.[8] After completing an MSc in chemistry from the same university, he worked as an assistant in its chemistry department.[7] It was here that he had his first publication in 1949, in the scientific journal Nature.[8] He graduated in 1951 with first class honours, and won a Fulbright Fellowship to the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He majored in inorganic chemistry, receiving his M.S. degree in 1952 and his PhD in 1953. He then won a Shell Graduate Scholarship, which enabled him to go to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he completed a second PhD in 1955.[7][9]

Career and research

MacDiarmid worked in the School of Chemistry at the University of St Andrews in Scotland for a year as a member of the junior faculty. He then took a faculty position in chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, USA, where he became a full professor in 1964. MacDiarmid spent the greater part of his career on the chemistry faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he worked for 45 years.[7] The first twenty years of his research there focused on silicon chemistry.[10] He was appointed Blanchard Professor of Chemistry in 1988.[11]

In 2002 MacDiarmid also joined the faculty of the University of Texas at Dallas.[12]

Conductive polymers

His best-known research was the discovery and development of conductive polymers—plastic materials that conduct electricity. He collaborated with the Japanese chemist Hideki Shirakawa and the American physicist Alan Heeger in this research and published the first results in 1977.[13] The three of them shared the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work.[14][15][16][17]

The Nobel Prize was awarded for the discovery that plastics can, after certain modifications, be made electrically conductive.[18] The work progressed to yield important practical applications. Conductive plastics can be used for anti-static substances for photographic film and 'smart' windows that can exclude sunlight. Semi-conductive polymers have been applied in light-emitting diodes, solar cells and displays in mobile telephones. Future developments in molecular electronics are predicted to dramatically increase the speed while reducing the size of computers.[citation needed]

MacDiarmid also travelled around the world for speaking engagements that impressed upon listeners the value of globalising the effort of innovation in the 21st century. In one of his last courses, in 2001, MacDiarmid elected to lead a small seminar of incoming freshmen about his research activities. Overall, his name is on over 600 published papers and 20 patents.[12]

Selected publications

Awards and honours

MacDiarmid won numerous awards and honours including:

Personal life

Towards the end of his life, MacDiarmid was ill with myelodysplastic syndrome. In early February 2007 he was planning to travel back to New Zealand, when he fell down the stairs in his home in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia,[22] and died on 7 February 2007.[23] He is buried at Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill.

MacDiarmid's first wife, Marian Mathieu, who he had married in 1954,[8] died in 1990. He is survived by four children: Heather McConnell, Dawn Hazelett, Duncan MacDiarmid and Gail Williams, from their marriage and nine grandchildren: Dr. Sean McConnell, Dr. Ryan McConnell, Rebecca McConnell, Dr. Clayton Hazelett, Wesley Hazelett, Langston MacDiarmid, Aubree Williams, Austin Williams and George Williams. MacDiarmid was also survived by his second wife, Gayl Gentile, whom he married in 2005; she died in 2014.[12]

MacDiarmid was a first cousin of New Zealand expatriate painter Douglas MacDiarmid. The year after Alan received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Douglas painted a portrait Archived 11 November 2021 at the Wayback Machine of his cousin for the New Zealand Portrait Gallery.[24]

MacDiarmid was also active as a naturist and nudist, and considered himself a sun-worshipper and keen waterskier.[25][18][26]


  1. ^ a b c "Fellowship of the Royal Society 1660–2015". Royal Society. Archived from the original on 15 October 2015.
  2. ^ Holmes, Andrew B.; Klein, Michael L.; Baughman, Ray H. (2023). "Alan Graham MacDiarmid. 14 April 1927—7 February 2007". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 74: 259–282. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2022.0045. S2CID 256630316.
  3. ^ Holmes, Andrew (2007). "Obituary: Alan Graham MacDiarmid (1927–2007) Pioneer of conducting polymers, and proud Antipodean". Nature. 446 (7134): 390. doi:10.1038/446390a. PMID 17377574. S2CID 4400048.
  4. ^ "Alan G. MacDiarmid". Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering. 15: 296. 2011.
  5. ^ Center for Oral History. "Alan G. MacDiarmid". Science History Institute.
  6. ^ Mody, Cyrus (19 December 2005). Alan G. MacDiarmid, Transcript of an Interview Conducted by Cyrus Mody at University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 19 December 2005 (PDF). Philadelphia, PA: Chemical Heritage Foundation.
  7. ^ a b c d "Alan G. MacDiarmid – Autobiography". Archived from the original on 10 July 2007. Retrieved 3 July 2007.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g "Alan MacDiarmid – PLASTIC FANTASTIC". Archived from the original on 1 July 2007. Retrieved 3 July 2007.
  9. ^ MacDiarmid, Alan Graham (1955). The chemistry of some new derivatives of the silyl radical (PhD thesis). University of Cambridge.
  10. ^ Bellama, J.M.; MacDiarmid, A.G. (1969). "Synthesis and proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectra of silylmethyl halides". Journal of Organometallic Chemistry. 18 (2): 275–284. doi:10.1016/S0022-328X(00)85395-4. S2CID 95219241.
  11. ^ "Chairs for Five SAS Faculty". Almanac (University of Pennsylvania newsletter), 35(1), 12 July 1988.
  12. ^ a b c Chang, Kenneth (8 February 2007). "Alan MacDiarmid, 79, Who Won Nobel for Work With Plastic, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
  13. ^ Shirakawa, Hideki; Louis, Edwin J.; MacDiarmid, Alan G.; Chiang, Chwan K.; Heeger, Alan J. (1977). "Synthesis of electrically conducting organic polymers: Halogen derivatives of polyacetylene, (CH) x" (PDF). Journal of the Chemical Society, Chemical Communications (16): 578. doi:10.1039/C39770000578. Archived from the original on 25 September 2017. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  14. ^ "The Long and Winding Road to the Nobel Prize for Alan MacDiarmid". Almanac (University of Pennsylvania newsletter), 47(8), 17 October 2000.
  15. ^ Sandy Smith, "Alan MacDiarmid". The Penn Current, 26 October 2000. Archived 31 December 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Joan P. Capuzzi Giresi, "The Boy Chemist at 75." Pennsylvania Gazette, March 2002.
  17. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2000: Alan Heeger, Alan G. MacDiarmid, Hideki Shirakawa".
  18. ^ a b Kent Atkinson of NZPA (9 February 2007). "The Nobel-prize winning naturist – Alan MacDiarmid remembered". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  19. ^ "". Archived from the original on 4 July 2007. Retrieved 14 July 2007.
  20. ^ "New Year honours list 2002". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 31 December 2001. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  21. ^ Friendship Award awards friends, People's Daily Online, 30 September 2004
  22. ^ "Nobel-Winner MacDiarmid Dies". Pennsylvania Gazette, March 2007.
  23. ^ "NZ Nobel Prize winner dies". NZPA. 8 February 2007. Archived from the original on 22 September 2007. Retrieved 8 February 2007.
  24. ^ "Alan MacDiarmid". The New Zealand Portrait Gallery. Archived from the original on 4 February 2020. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  25. ^ "Kiwi Naturist Nobel Winner Remembered". NaturistMusings. 16 February 2007. Archived from the original on 11 November 2021. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  26. ^ My Nude Life Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine