University of Otago, New Zealand


Te Tari Hua-Ruanuku

Life in the department

The department has both a strong academic and social life, with regular Chem Club functions held on Friday evenings for senior students and staff.  These provide a friendly atmosphere where chemistry students and staff can meet on an informal basis.  A series of friendly but competitive staff vs student challenges run during the year, with the overall winners being awarded the GAWK trophy.  A student representative and liaison system is in place to provide regular contact between students and staff.  This system helps to create a positive teaching environment, encouraging equal opportunity for all.  Most graduate students are also employed as tutors or demonstrators for undergraduate laboratory classes.

The department

The Department of Chemistry offers courses leading to BSc, BSc(Hons), PGDipSci, MSc and PhD degrees.  It also contributes to programmes in Food Science and Marine Science.  In 2003, the department taught about 330 effective full-time students, which equates to approximately 1400 individuals taking a wide variety of courses in chemistry.

All of the academic staff of the department are heavily involved in research in a wide range of fields of national and international significance.  Research in the Department centres on three research themes:  Functional Materials; Marine and Freshwater Chemistry; and Chemistry in Biological Systems.  Staff in the department also contribute to major and emerging University of Otago research themes including Oxidative Stress in Health and Disease, Antarctic Science and Marine Environments of the Southern Oceans and Lasers and Applications.  The department organizes an extensive programme of research seminars.

Externally funded research in the department includes two large FRST programmes, a significant NERF initiative and seven Marsden projects in which staff from the department are principal investigators.  In addition, staff are also involved in a number of multidisciplinary projects, funded from a variety of sources in collaboration with staff from other university departments including Biochemistry, Food Science, Physiology, Physics and Marine Science.

The Department of Chemistry has major collaborations with two Crown Research Institutes.  The Plant Extracts Research Unit (PERU) was established in the Department in 1992.  It is a joint venture between the University of Otago and Crop and Food Research with the objective of research and development of natural products with commercial potential.  The Unit has six permanent staff in the Department with an academic staff member as a consultant.   The Centre for Chemical and Physical Oceanography was established in 1996 as a collaborative venture between the department and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).  The primary aims of the unit are to foster collaborative research and graduate training in chemical and physical oceanography.  The Centre has two permanent staff from NIWA working in the Department who contribute to joint research and postgraduate teaching and supervision.  A recent major success for the Centre was their contribution along with staff from the Department to the Southern Ocean Iron Release Experiment (SOIREE).

Two technical service units have their homes in the Department of Chemistry -  The Campbell Microanalytical Laboratory provides microanalyses for universities and government research agencies throughout New Zealand and Australia, and the University's Glassblowing Service is housed in the department.  The department also maintains its own fully equipped and staffed mechanical and electronics workshops.