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Position: Professor, Field: Chemical and materials engineering, Organisation: University of Auckland

Margaret Hyland is a Professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering and Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Auckland. She has a PhD in chemistry from the University of Western Ontario in Canada.

When Margaret was at high school, she found that science provided her with more of those “Wow, that’s really cool” moments than any other subject. Through study and research, she discovered that there was real potential for an individual to have an impact on the world and do things that really matter. She also realised that, through engineering and science, you can work on big issues that affect society.

I think of engineering as the interface between society and technology. Engineers are doing that translation from scientific or technological idea to an end use for the benefit of society.

Margaret has gained international recognition for her work in environmental aspects of aluminium reduction technology and in thermal spray-coatings. These two topics share a common theme: the chemistry of surfaces. Margaret has used her knowledge of surface chemistry to help design fluoride gas cleaning systems for the aluminium industry and to study how to optimise engineering surface coatings.

Most significantly, Margaret’s research into fluoride absorption was used by Comalco Aluminium (now Rio Tinto Alcan) as the basis for the design of their gas cleaning system, the Torbed Reactor. The research also forms the basis of an industry guide to minimise fluoride emissions.

Margaret knows the importance of keeping an open mind. She recounts an example to illustrate this. She was leading a research team, and an essential piece of analytical equipment failed. It was no easy fix, and this particular piece of equipment was unlikely to be usable for much of the year. As a result, Margaret and her team turned to different scientific techniques, which led to a whole new set of insights that would have taken them much longer to gain, if ever.

It is that perspective that has guided Margaret throughout her career. She combines her personal and professional life, achieving her goals of being a mother, a researcher and a contributor to society.

Nature of science

Some researchers working in the nature of science field have identified scientific habits of mind. One of these is open-mindedness, allowing the researcher to be receptive to new ideas. Margaret has found that, by applying an open-minded approach to her research work, new ideas, solutions and insights often emerge.

This article is based on information current in 2014.

    Published 29 April 2014