Position: Director Field: Soft materials Organisation: MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology
Kate studied at Burnside High School and the University of Canterbury, where she completed a BSc (Hons) in chemistry. Her first research project was investigating the chemistry of interstellar space. She then completed a PhD in liquid crystals at the Australian National University in Canberra. Because liquid crystals are only weakly associated, they are responsive and can be made to change colour and display moving images. This became the basis of Kate’s career as she took up postdoctoral positions in Paris (L’Université de Pierre et Marie Curie) and Princeton (Physics Department at Princeton University). This gave her the opportunity to travel, improve her French and experience different cultures.
This was followed by 6 years lecturing in chemistry at the University of Otago, where Kate also completed a PGDipCom in Finance. In 2004, she moved to Victoria University of Wellington. Here, she started to explore biominerals – hard-tissue materials made by biological organisms, including bones, shells and teeth.
Biominerals have three-dimensional structures that have a remarkable resemblance to the structures of the soft responsive materials Kate was already investigating. Kate says, “When you start looking around, you see that so many things share common structural features that nature uses over and over again in different materials. So I thought, if we can learn how to recreate those essential features in a synthetic environment, we would be able to make analogues of biological hard tissue. These analogues could be used, for example, as bone or teeth implants. More than this is we can control not only the structural form of a material but also make materials from chemicals that have specific chemical, optical, electronic or physical responses. Well really, we could create anything that we wanted.”
When you come to work every day and you get to discover things that no one knew before you and share that with people who constantly want to know more, there really is nothing better.
In addition to her role as Director of The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, Kate is a Professor in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington and an Associate Investigator in The Riddet Institute, Food, Innovation, Health.
Kate’s roles see her working with a very wide range of people. In particular, she enjoys being surrounded by people aged 18–30 years who have the vitality and curiosity to ask many questions and the drive to find out more.
This article is based on information current in 2012.
Listen to this podcast interview from June 2015 with Dr Kate McGrath titled: Synthesizing chemistry and physics in her studies of soft matter and self-assembly
In this Radio New Zealand programme from June 2014 hear Kate talk about how researchers at the MacDiarmid Institute are using 3D printing and self-assembling materials inspired by biominerals to recreate bone.