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Physical and Chemical Sciences research

29 October 2023

UC's graduate research programme offers an exceptional opportunity to talented students who are preparing themselves for careers in Astronomy, Chemistry or Physics.


Graduate training at Canterbury is aimed toward developing within each student the ability to do creative scientific research. The most important facet of the programme for a research student is his or her own original research project. 

The opportunities for research are favourable and a research environment is encouraged by all staff, most of whom dedicate a large portion of their time to research and are concerned to ensure that the standing of the School is recognised in the international scientific community.

Our teaching and research areas are diverse and we boast many international links, offering research students an extensive network and career opportunities.

Research areas

  • Sally Gaw - Aspects of environmental chemistry, including fate of contaminants in the environment and human exposure to contaminants.
  • Brett Robinson - Biowaste research, trace elements in the environment, soil chemistry, environmental remediation, Rhizosphere research, Soil-plant interactions.
  • Ian Shaw - Toxicology and environmental chemistry, including mechanisms of toxicity, particularly the impact of environmental contaminants on humans.

  • Currently astronomy is undergoing huge expansion as we can now view the Universe at all wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. Satellites can get above the atmosphere to detect gamma rays and on the ground huge telescope arrays many kilometres across make exciting discoveries with radio waves. Electronic detectors, known as CCDs have replaced photography for optical observations in astronomy, and this data has led to new advances in our knowledge of the Universe.
  • Find out more about what we do and how you can get involved.

  • Antony Fairbanks - Organic synthesis, carbohydrate chemistry,
  • Timothy Allison - Native mass spectrometry, membrane proteins, enzymes, structural biology
  • Jodie Johnston -

The condensed matter group is interested in the properties of materials from millimetre size right down to the scale where quantum behaviour of the atoms becomes important. At these small dimensions, on the scale of nanometres, materials take on new physical properties and thus present the opportunity for new science and applications. This is the field of Nanotechnology.


  • Nanotechnology research
    • Simon Brown
  • Find out more about Semi Conductor Physics
    • Roger Reeves
  • Find out more about Spectroscopy of lanthanide-doped nanoparticles and materials for quantum information
    • Mike Reid
    • Jon Paul Wells

  • Professor David Wiltshire - General relativity and gravitation; Cosmology; Black holes and Quantum gravity
  • Associate Professor Jenni Adams - Cosmology and astroparticle physics; High energy neutrino detection; Inflationary phase transition and related phenomena and Large scale structure formation in the Universe 
  • IceCube - South Pole Neutrino Detector website
  • Dr Chris Gordon - Galactic Center; cosmic rays; dark matter; galaxy clusters; primordial power spectrum; cosmic microwave background; inflation and non-gaussianity.

The main focus of this group is to examine how the climate has changed in response to man-made changes associated with ozone depletion and greenhouse gases. This is done by gathering new fundamental knowledge on processes in the atmosphere. To achieve this goal requires a combination of observations, from satellites, ground based instruments at field sites in New Zealand and Antarctica and climate modelling.

  • Find out more about what we do and how you can get involved.
  • Adrian McDonald 
  • Laura Revell

CMS - CERN's Compact Muon Solenoid detector - a general-purpose particle physics detector built at one of the four interaction points of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) proton collider. The universities of Canterbury and Auckland have been members of the CERN CMS collaboration since December 2003 when a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the New Zealand government and CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research).

  • Owen Curnow - Ionic liquids based on amino-stabilised cyclopropenium cations: synthesis, properties and applications.
  • Alison Downard- Surfacechemistry, electrochemistry and nanotechnology.
  • Vladimir Golovko - Inorganic and materials chemistry for applications in catalysis and nanotechnology, including bio-nanotechnology.

  • Deborah Crittenden - Theoretical and computational chemistry.
  • Sarah Masters Gas-phase molecular structure.
  • Greg Russell- Modelling of all aspects of free-radical polymerization kinetics; synthesis of novel emulsion polymers.
  • Bryce Williamson - Molecular spectroscopy, matrix-isolation and magnetic circular dichroism.

  • Antony Fairbanks- Synthetic organic chemistry, carbohydrate chemistry, and applications of carbohydrates in biology and medicine (glycobiology). Research techniques primarily involve organic synthesis, together with biocatalysis and other aspects of chemical biology.
  • Christopher Fitchett– synthesis of new and interesting organic molecules, particularly focusing on colossal aromatic molecules.
  • Richard Hartshorn - Aspects of bio-inorganic chemistry, including the reactivity of chelated ligands, ligand construction on metal ions and the synthesis of metal ion based hypoxic cell selective anti-cancer agents.
  • Paul Kruger - Inorganic supramolecular chemistry. Interests are centred in supramolecular chemistry, and involve the design, synthesis and characterization of metal complexes incorporating organic and coordination chemistries.
  • Jan Wikaira - Inorganic synthetic chemistry with particular emphasis on materials with interesting magnetic properties. Aspects of bio-inorganic chemistry, particularly the synthesis and characterisation of macrocylic complexes that may act as mimics of the active sites of enzymes. X-ray Crystallography: Small molecule crystallography. Structure determination and refinement. Wood Technology: The application of crystallographic techniques to the determination of tensile strength in timber

Gravity and Cosmology Research Group

Curnow Research Group

Fairbanks' Research Group

Masters Research Group

Downard Electrochemistry and Surface Chemistry Research Group

Golovko Research Group

Allison Research Group

Research Centres

Biomolecular Interaction Centre

The Biomolecular Interaction Centre (BIC) is a multi-disciplinary research centre dedicated to the study of molecular interactions critical to biological function.

Centre for Atmospheric Research

The Centre for Atmospheric Research aims to co-ordinate UC research and teaching concerned with atmospheric science and to pomote high-quality atmospheric research.

Hear from our researchers

History of Mt John

Chris Monson from Earth and Sky shares some stories about America's involvement at Mt John.

Planet hunters

A team of UC astronomers have eyes on the universe - 24/7 (weather permitting!)

McLellan Telescope

Alan Gilmore shows us the 1m telescope at Mt John University Observatory in Tekapo

Black holes making waves around the universe

Professor David Wiltshire presents a lecture on black holes making waves around the Universe.

A (nano) chip off the old block

At a certain point, computer components can't get any smaller. How does the computer then continue to become faster, lighter, and energy efficient?

Hunting the elusive neutrino in Antarctica

University of Canterbury Physics and Astronomy Associate Professor Jenni Adams talks about neutrinos, and describes the huge neutrino detector, IceCube.

CNC Mill

Graeme explains one of the newest and most useful tools they have in the workshop.

David Wiltshire

David's main area of research is on explaining dark energy and developing cosmological models that do not require its presence to drive an expanding universe.

Karen Pollard

Associate Professor Karen Pollard is involved in researching 'The music of the stars' by looking at modes of non radial pulsations within the stars.

Anthony Butler

Dr Anthony Butler works on the MARS project at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

Rosanna's hooked on Chemistry

Rosanna talks about her Chemistry PhD.

Chris on life as a PhD student

Chris talks about his Chemistry thesis.

Controlled synthesis of titanium dioxide

Jan Yves PhD thesis on the controlled synthesis of titanium dioxide.

Prof Antony Fairbanks' Research: A new paradigm for organelle targeting

Professor Antony Fairbanks is working on a revolutionary drug-targeting system that could be used to treat a range of fatal, inherited diseases caused by genetic enzyme deficiencies.

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