Position: Former Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Otago.
Field: Trace metals in natural waters, chemical equilibria in marine and freshwater systems.
Professor Keith Hunter’s fascination with the ocean’s chemistry and his interest in studying this field is intertwined with his interest in how life first evolved in the oceans.
Practical science experiments at school and a group of friends who all cherished an interest for science were some of the reasons why Keith Hunter decided to pursue his passion for science by studying chemistry at the University of Auckland. He finished a master’s degree and was offered a scholarship to study in the UK. Keith had to decide on a field of study for his research and, after consulting with a colleague, decided to apply his knowledge in chemistry within environmental science, more specifically in marine chemistry. This area also aligned with Keith’s natural interest in and enjoyment of the ocean and marine environment.
After finishing his PhD at East Anglia University and a post-doctoral position in Paris, he got involved in a project called Geosecs – one of the first international research projects that looked at investigating ocean chemistry from a system science approach. Following this, Keith accepted a position at Otago University to help establish a new research direction in marine chemistry at the Centre for Chemical and Physical Oceanography. One of the innovative ideas Keith brought to the new department was the establishment of a ‘clean room’ lab that allowed more accurate measurements of metals in the ocean’s waters.
Keith points out that scientific questions don’t fall neatly into subject-specific areas, which is why it is so important to be working together across fields. He also believes that, as a scientist, you should be able to explain the relevance of your research to a 12 year old – if you can’t, it is probably not very important (or maybe you don’t understand it properly).
From 2010, until his retirement in 2016, Keith was Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Sciences, at the University of Otago. In 1997 Keith was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. He was awarded the Prime Minister’s Science Prize in 2011 and the Marsden Medal in 2014.
In October 2018 Professor Keith Hunter passed away. Read a tribute to him from the Otago Daily Times here.
This article is based on information current in 2009 and updated in 2018.