Emeritus Professor Barry Ninham

Ninham, Barry profile
Position Emeritus Professor
Department Materials Physics
Research group
Office phone (02) 612 54694
Office Cockcroft 3 17
Curriculum vitae Ninham CV (767KB PDF)
Publication list Ninham publication list (1754KB PDF)


Barry Ninham was educated at Guildford Grammar School, St Georges College and the University of Western Australia . He graduated Ph. D in 1962 in Mathematical Physics at the University of Maryland. He was one of the first of the cohort of Australians who went to the USA rather than the UK for graduate education. In so doing he gave up the chance to be in the Australian 1960 Rome Olympics Crew!

The ANU Academic Board established the Barry Ninham Chair in Natural Sciences at ANU in 2008 in recognition of his four decades of contributions to many fields of science. The distinction of a named Chair is one he shares with the Australian Historian, Manning Clark.

Barry founded the ANU Department of "Applied Mathematics" in 1970. It became a world leader in the field of colloid and surface science, a subject that underlies all of modern biology and chemical engineering. He also founded and led the ANU Department of Optical Sciences Department.

More than 75 of the students and research fellows he has mentored have become full professors in Australia and overseas in various fields, and more than 10 had become Fellows of the Australian Academy of Sciences, and five Fellows of the Royal Society by 2010. He supervised around 150 Ph.D. theses in Australia and overseas.

His work and contributions have been recognised in numerous honours and awards from Sweden, Japan, France, Russia, Germany, USA and Australia.

Why ?-- Since the molecular biology revolution of the 1960's, the physical sciences, which ought to have provided the enabling tools to assist the progress of biology, (and of chemical engineering ) have hardly contributed at all, at least conceptually. This was a great puzzle. Barry Ninham and his colleagues, after 40 years of sustained fundamental work, found out why. As a result there is a paradigm shift in progress: 150 years of text book theory in physical chemistry is under revision. The new science does work predictively. It is an enormous step forward and of great practical significance to areas like oil recovery and desalination besides molecular and cell biology.

The ANU Department he founded in 1970 and still works in maintains its high profile in experiment, applied work, and in theory at the boundaries of physical chemistry, chemical engineering, physics and biology, inorganic chemistry. The Department works extensively with industry.

He has contributed to other areas:

  • In rowing, chairing the ANU Staff Center and the first Australian Wine Symposium before Grange and Max Schubert were even on the radar.
  • Chairman and organiser of various international meetings in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology
  • Reviewer, many scientific journals
  • Member and Chair, 10 years, ANU Encyclopaedia Britannica Committee
  • Director, Australian Enhanced Oil recovery program
  • Chair of Review Committees in Physical Chemistry (1986), and Basic Engineering Sciences, Sweden (1997)
  • Reviewer of Physical Chemistry for Atomic Energy Commission France (1998)
  • A member of numerous university committees
  • Feature Writer in National Press, on education and science policy
  • Consultant to companies including Proctor and Gamble, Unilever, joint programs with Memtec, W.A. Sands.
  • Founder, with Professor John Molony of the ANU Emeritus Faculty.
  • Foundation Member, UNESCO World Commission on Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology. (1998-2002)

He has also played a major role in preserving ANU from dismemberment during political disputes on new versus old Universities. His numerous awards are outlined in his brief cv.

Research interests

  • Research Interests: Physical and Inorganic Chemistry
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry, especially molecular forces (measurements and theory), self assembly of surfactants and biological molecules
  • Statistical mechanics of soft condensed matter, liquids at interfaces, solution chemistry, especially electrolytes, polyelectrolytes, new materials via templating and mechanochemistry, immunology, hydrophobic interactions, porous, disordered and random media
  • Number theory in physics, and asymptotic analysis