School of Physical and Chemical Sciences, Te Kura Matū Seminar Series

The 2017 Royal Society of Chemistry Australasian Lectureship


Neil W. Barnett


Centre for Chemistry and Biotechnology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences Deakin University, Waurn Ponds, Australia

Time & Place

Wed, 25 Oct 2017 12:00:00 NZDT in Rutherford Level 5, Room 531

All are welcome


This presentation proffers a brief summary and light-hearted perspective on my sojourn in analytical chemistry over the last forty years or so. The scientific content begins with chemical vapour generation and then meanders with purpose through plasma atomic emission spectroscopy, flow analysis, process monitoring, chemiluminescence, liquid chromatography, reaction mechanisms, forensic science, bioactives and whatever else I can remember on the day. Obviously, the vast majority of the actual work was carried out by numerous PhD students and postdoctoral fellows who no longer allow me into the laboratory but from whom I am continually learning. Interwoven through this collage of amnesia will be acknowledgment of some significant friends, collaborators and mentors, without whose positive influence on my career I would not have been awarded this prestigious lectureship. 


Following a mélange of full and part-time study, Neil graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science from RMIT in 1978. The previous year, he had joined the Carlton and United Breweries group technical centre as an analytical chemist and was encouraged to engage in research on several topics including the emerging field of hydride generation atomic absorption. His successful experiments and exploration of the relevant literature convinced him to explore the possibility of postgraduate study in analytical atomic spectroscopy. In August 1979 at a RACI Analytical Chemistry Division seminar he had a convivial discussion with the guest speaker, Dr Gordon Kirkbright (Imperial College, London). Within a year the now Professor Kirkbright was at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and he invited Neil to join the recently established Department of Instrumentation and Analytical Science. Accordingly, on a bleak, grey Manchester morning, in January 1981 Neil began a fascinating and enlightening period of postgraduate research punctuated by numerous trips abroad. Sadly this wonderful experience was marred by the untimely death of his friend and supervisor, Gordon Kirkbright, in July 1984.

The late summer of 1985 saw Neil married to Darlene, a charming lass from Barnsley in South Yorkshire and after a three-day honeymoon they departed Manchester for Plymouth where he took up a lectureship at the Polytechnic. The learning curve was precipitous but with considerable help and mentoring he managed to write/deliver lectures, run practicals, finish his PhD thesis (1986), and supervise two research students. Most importantly, he became a father of a son (James). These were great times but the paucity of research funding and high teaching loads persuaded him to accept an appointment with ICI Chemicals and Polymers at Runcorn in August 1988 as a senior research scientist, with responsibility for establishing collaborative programmes with universities in process analytical chemistry. As interesting and well paid as the ICI position was, the allure of academic life beckoned so Neil and his family returned to Australia in January 1991.

Neil re-activated his academic career as a senior lecturer in analytical chemistry at the Waurn Ponds Campus of Deakin University where he is today. He was promoted to a personal chair in 2004 and was awarded an Alfred Deakin Professorship in 2015. He is a member of one of Australia’s preeminent analytical chemistry research groups concerned with the fundamentals and applications of chemiluminescence and separation science. Neil was awarded the 2003 RACI, Analytical Chemistry Division Medal and received a DSc in 2005 from Deakin University for his contributions to analytical chemistry. In 2016 he was given the RACI Analytical and Environmental Chemistry Division Citation and he is the 2017 Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) Australasian Lecturer.

He is a fellow of the RSC and RACI, has authored 200 papers, supervised forty-five PhD students and is an editor of Analytica Chimica Acta. Neil has served on various panels of the Australian Research Council including the Future Fellowships Selection Advisory Committees, ERA Research Evaluation Committees and the College of Experts.