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The Department

Established in 1871 with the appointment of Professor James Gow Black, the Department of Chemistry at the University of Otago is the oldest chemistry department in New Zealand. It has grown to be one of the largest Departments in the Division of Sciences and contributes to various courses and programmes in Sciences and Health Sciences at the University of Otago.

Responsibility for the department's dual mandate of teaching and research is shared among full-time academic staff and a number of teaching and research fellows, assisted by a similar number of technical, secretarial and general staff. As such, the department is one of the largest and most active in New Zealand. Working conditions and facilities rival those of many overseas departments.

Research activities

Research activities in the Department of Chemistry are largely encapsulated by three areas of research strength.

  • Chemistry in biological systems addresses the synthesis, isolation, characterization and application of chemical species of relevance to biological processes.
  • Functional molecular materials uses expertise in chemical synthesis, surface chemistry, spectroscopy and process technology for the production and uses of materials with potential applications in industry, technology and medicine.
  • Marine and freshwater chemistry targets the understanding of chemical processes in the natural waters of New Zealand, and beyond.


Researchers in the Department of Chemistry have access to an extensive array of modern specialist research techniques, as well as the services of the Campbell Microanalytical Laboratory, the department's mechanical and electronics workshops and the university's Glassblowing Service.

Equipment and techniques

Equipment and techniques that are available include:

  • Atomic absorption (AA) spectrophotometry
  • Class 5 (ISO 4) Clean Laboratory Suite
  • Differential scanning calorimetry DSC
  • Dynamic mechanical analysis DMA
  • Gas chromatography (GC)
  • Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS)
  • Gel permeation/size exclusion chromatography GPC/SEC
  • HiRes Mass Spectrometry (MS)
  • High-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC)
  • Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS)
  • Multiple-Collector Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (MC-ICPMS)
  • Nd:YAG Deep UV Laser Ablation System
  • Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy
  • Thermogravimetric analysis TGAUltraviolet–visible (UV-vis) spectrophotometry
  • X-ray crystallography

Research Units

The Department of Chemistry also hosts two research units that are joint ventures with New Zealand Crown Research Institutes.

They are the Centre for Chemical and Physical Oceanography (National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research – NIWA and the Plant Extracts Research Unit (Plant and Food Research). The placement of these research units with the Department of Chemistry at Otago recognizes the department's expertise in natural products chemistry and marine chemistry and oceanography. Staff from the research units play a full part in the life of the department, including joint supervision of undergraduate and postgraduate research projects.