Tripping (on) the Light Fantastic

By Michael Edmonds 08/11/2011 1


As part of the International Year of Chemistry, and to celebrate the centenary of Marie Curie’s Nobel prize for chemistry, the Royal Society of New Zealand has been running a series of lectures by prominent New Zealand women chemists at different venues around the country.

This evening I attended the Christchurch Marie Curie lecture delivered by Dr Cather Simpson, Director of the Photon Factory, a modern multi-user laser facility at the University of Auckland. It was a fantastic talk, in which Dr Simpson skillfully interwove the history, physics and chemistry of light, including an excellent explanation of the particle/wave duality of light. Using some excellent demonstrations (passing red and green laser through her fingertip to show that blood absorbs green light but not red, and using the image in a $10 note to demonstrate diffraction of a laser) and a wonderfully clever sense of humour, the talk was both entertaining and informative.

After setting the scene with the history and science of light, Dr Simpson then described some of her own research which was fascinating.  From exploring different ways of harnessing sunlight to produce energy, using lasers to etch thermally absorbent surfaces, to the design of molecular “dragons” (devices that focus excess vibrational energy) which have potential applications in cancer therapeutics, Dr Simpson showed the incredible diversity of her research into applications of light.

It really was a pleasure to listen to a speaker whose scientific expertise was accompanied by a seemingly effortless ability to connect with the audience. I do hope Dr Simpson continues to share her knowledge and enthusiasm with the public in the future.


One Response to “Tripping (on) the Light Fantastic”

  • I was there too – it was agreat talk; she managed to cover a good, varied range of topics, and keep the audience engaged. Too bad the lecture series was scattered around the country – I would have liked to attend more of them.