Position: Senior research scientist, Field: Materials research, Organisation: Industrial Research Limited (IRL), Gracefield, Lower Hutt

Dr Ian Brown attended Tawa College, then Victoria University, where he attained a BSc and a master’s degree in chemistry, then a PhD specialising in glass chemistry.

Ian undertook his PhD with the Head of Department, James Duncan, as his supervisor. This worked well, since James had a very hands-off approach and Ian wanted to ‘do his own thing’.

James Duncan was a superb mentor and they worked together very well for 3 years. Through his contacts, James provided the path for Ian to join Pilkington Glass in the UK. Ian and his wife moved to Lancashire on a 1-year contract and stayed for an additional 4 years.

During this time, Ian worked in the laboratory of 1000 staff and within 2 years was working in a small team taking the most promising technologies from the laboratory and making them work in the factory. This was a challenging and interesting time for Ian, and he learned a lot about how technology is applied to industry. He also learned how to get on with different types of people, how to build relationships and how to demonstrate achieving goals so that others would follow.

Upon returning to New Zealand with a young family, Ian joined the chemistry division of the then DSIR. By the late 1980s, he was managing the ceramics team. He set the team on the path it was to take throughout the next 2 decades and still follows today.

Ian’s research has led to the development of a class of ceramic materials known as O-Sialons. The high thermal shock resistance of these ceramics has made them particularly useful in molten metal-handling industries.

Ian always enjoyed science at school, and since his 20s, he has been very interested in materials research. He is involved in several very different projects within this orbit and says he is keen on them all.

“I still enjoy personally doing the science. However, I get to do precious little of it these days, so I enjoy working with the people that are and helping to shape and guide them. I specially enjoy working with the younger students and staff members, mentoring them if you like, knowing that some have the potential to be the brilliant scientists of the future.”

“Scientific research is a completely flexible and varied career – you don’t know what is going to be on your plate from one week to the next. When you get enough experience on board, you can control your own destiny and your own research to a large extent. The key thing for younger people is to keep their options open – don’t specialise too soon.”

Ian plays master’s badminton at a national level and is a keen runner and occasional skier.

This article is based on information current in 2010.

Published 27 April 2010