Peter Daivis

I have been asked to say a few words about Ian's contributuons as a asientist and academic on behalf of his colleagues. Ian had very broad interests and connections, so it’s hard to summarise it all in a few minutes, and I’m sure that some important thingswill be missed. But I hope that you will gain an appreciation of his passion for science, the significance of his contributions, and the widespread respect that he earned.

Ian completed his undergraduate and PhD degrees in chemistry at the University of Tasmania, although his PhD work was actually done at CSIRO in Fisherman’s Ben when his supervisor Tom Spurling moved there. It’s interesting to note that Ian’s PhD studies were supported by a postgraduate scholarship from General Motors Holden.

His first paper was published in 1970, and his early research concerned studies of intermolecular potentials using experimental data and theoretical computations. This field of research was pioneered at CSIRO by John Barker, who Ian often mentioned and respected immensely. In fact Ian later wrote an article for a commemorative issue of Molecular Physics about John Barker’s influence on Australian science. Ian often returned to the subject of intermolecular potentials, making significant contributions at intervals throughout his career.
From CSIRO, he went to work with David Craig at the Research School of Chemistry at the Australian National University in Canberra. At CSIRO and then ANU he began a long and productive collaboration with Bob Watts, who could obviously recognize talent when he saw it! They went on to publish many papers together. At ANU, he also met Bill Hoover, visiting from the Lawrence Livermore Labs in the USA and Denis Evans (a PhD student of Bob Watts), who both became long-time friends.

In May 1973, he joined the Department of Applied Physics at RMIT, about a year after Bill van Megen, who he had also met at ANU. Ian and Bill were instrumental in the modernization and renewal of physics at RMIT initiated by the then Head of Department, Robert Budwine. With teaching loads of 16 to 19 contact hours per week and a non-existent research culture, this was a very tough environment in which to establish a research career, but Ian and Bill combined their talents and managed to do world-leading research in colloid physics.

With Bill van Megen, Ian was one of the first researchers at RMIT to receive funding from the then-named Australian Research Grants Council in the mid-1970’s. Following that, he was successful in gaining at least 12 ARC grants. Ian and Bill supervised Masters degree students Tony Hughes and Kevin Gaylor who were amongst the first higher-degree graduates at RMIT. Soon afterwards, Ian was instrumental in the development of PhD awards at RMIT, and Tony Hughes became one of the earliest PhD graduates of the university.

In the years that followed, Ian established a research career that made him an internationally recognized researcher. To this date, he has authored or co-authored more than 140 peer-reviewed papers. This number will continue to increase as Ian’s many collaborators and students complete work that is still in progress. Ian was still interested in physics and helping his students even in the last weeks of his illness.

As his career progressed, Ian became a highly appreciated invited speaker at many international conferences. This wasn’t only because of the excellent science he presented. Ian had a unique style of presentation that often involved very funny diversions and asides, illustrated with sometimes unflattering photos of his collaborators. His talks could veer off into stand-up comedy and back to serious science in a couple of sentences, so he made sure that he never lost the attention of the audience.

As a result of his warm personality and excellent scientific reputation, Ian had many international collaborators from places such as the USA, Ireland, Europe and Japan. In recent years he and Marie have often visited the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany where Ian had a long term position as a visiting scientist. 

Ian’s scientific contributions ranged very widely, from X-ray scattering studies of theporosity of brown coal to the origins of van der Waals forces between atoms. He worked on the Langevin equation and Brownian motion, publishing a book on this subject in 2007. His most highly cited work was on density oscillations in fluids near a hard wall. He has worked on the nucleation and growth of nanoparticles, surface physics and new structures of carbon. To all of these subjects he brought his characteristic wisdom and physical insight.

As a lecturer, supervisor and mentor, Ian excelled. Many young scientists have received opportunities largely because of Ian’s mentoring and behind the scenes advocacy. Ian supervised many postgraduate and honours project students, and he was several times asked to pick up the pieces and take over the role of lecturer or supervisor when things went wrong.

In the last few days there has been an enormous response to a request for comments in
memory of Ian. Most of them have come from students he supervised – he was
universally loved, respected and admired, and we all are truly grateful.