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University of Otago honours Chemistry research leader

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Thursday, 23 July 2015 10:28am

Sally Brooker image
Professor Sally Brooker (in red jacket) and her research group known as 'Brooker's Bunch'. Photo: Sharron Bennett

Professor Sally Brooker, an internationally leading inorganic chemistry researcher who designs and creates innovative molecules that could underpin future technologies, is the latest recipient of the Distinguished Research Medal, the University of Otago’s highest distinction.

The University awards the Medal for outstanding scholarly achievement, including the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge, the development of innovative technology, or the development of concepts that lead to significant advances.

Announcing the honour, Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne warmly congratulated Professor Brooker, noting that she is a “thoroughly deserving recipient of the Medal”.

“Sally Brooker has an impressive record in producing world-class research and in training and mentoring dozens of postgraduate students and early-career researchers. She is an internationally recognised leader and innovator in her field,” Professor Hayne says.

Professor Brooker is based in Otago’s Department of Chemistry and works to design and construct molecular-scale self-assembling systems that could ultimately be used as nano components to replace silicon chips.

She leads a rigorous programme to synthesise designer magnetic compounds and develop functional nano-scale magnetic switches, down to the ultimate limit of single-molecule magnets. In contrast to the current ‘top down’ approach of creating ever-smaller circuits on silicon chips to improve computing power, her approach is a ‘bottom up’ one.

She and her group are also interested in making synthetic models of natural metalloenzymes as this may lead to new ‘green’ industrial catalysts that produce chemicals from renewable resources rather than fossil fuels.

Professor Brooker and the sizeable research group she has attracted and maintained at Otago are world-recognised leaders in their field. Their work has been supported by several Marsden grants, which are the hallmark of excellence in New Zealand science.

She has published more than 170 refereed journal articles, and her papers have featured on the front covers of top-tier chemistry journals.

Professor Brooker gained her BSc (Hons) and PhD at the University of Canterbury. After undertaking a postdoctoral fellowship in the Federal Republic of Germany, she joined the University of Otago’s Department of Chemistry as a lecturer in 1991.

She has been awarded a number of prizes, including the prestigious Easterfield Medal by the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry and the Royal Society of Chemistry (1999) and the Institute’s Maurice Wilkins Prize for Excellence in Chemical Research (2009).

She was promoted to Professor in 2006 and that same year was invited to become a principal investigator in the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology. Professor Brooker has collaborated with dozens of scientists in Australia, many European countries, as well as Canada and the USA.

In 2007 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and in 2011 was admitted to the Fellowship of the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK).

Professor Brooker is noted as an outstanding mentor of postgraduate students and other early career researchers. She has supervised 18 PhD, 2 MSc and 27 BSc(Hons) students to completion, as well as 21 postdoctoral fellows many of whom were international and self-funded.

Professor Brooker says it was a “lovely, not to mention total, surprise to receive the news of this award from the Vice-Chancellor”.

“Chemistry research is a team game, so this is a great honour for me and all of my talented research team members over the years. I’d like to dedicate this medal to my parents, who have always been 200 per cent supportive of me.”

The Distinguished Research Medal will be presented to Professor Brooker when she delivers a public lecture later this year.

For more information, contact:

Professor Sally Brooker
Department of Chemistry
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 7919
Email sally.brooker@otago.ac.nz

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