Movers and Shakers in Science

Throughout history, the greatest scientific minds have not only demystified the world with their discoveries but helped shape how we live in it with their ingenious inventions. This series explores the lives of scientists who have made major advances in the field of science.


The atomic nucleus: Ernest Rutherford and Maria Goeppert Mayer

Presented by A/Prof Duncan McGillivray and Dr Nadine van der Heijden

The idea that our world is built of indivisible particles is as old as Leucippus and Democritus (5th century BCE) – we call them atoms. However, in 1897 J.J. Thomson discovered that atoms could be divided further and the journey of understanding the inner workings of atoms began. New Zealand scientist Ernest Rutherford proposed the existence of the atomic nucleus in 1911, but it was not until Maria Goeppert Mayer’s explanation of magic numbers in 1950 that the stability and instability of different atomic nuclei was understood. In this session, we will discuss the lives and science of these two scientists who shook their contemporaries out of old ideas and moved our understanding forward, and how their impacts are still felt today.


  • Tuesday 19 June, 10am – 12pm
  • $35.00 incl. GST
  • The University of Auckland, City Campus
  • Presented by Duncan McGillivray and Nadine van der Heijden

Seminar presenter

Dr Duncan McGillivray

Dr Duncan McGillivray

Associate Professor

Duncan studied his undergraduate in Auckland before gaining a doctorate at the University of Oxford looking at the surface structures of complex materials. His group now looks biological systems using techniques that can image layers only a few molecules thick, particularly neutron and X-ray scattering. One of the main facilities they use, the OPAL research nuclear reactor at the Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering in Sydney, is a leading edge modern descendant of Rutherford’s work, which shines new light into the workings of living systems in ways that couldn’t have been predicted 100 years ago.

Dr Nadine J. van der Heijden

Dr Nadine J. van der Heijden

Research Fellow

Nadine was born in the Netherlands in 1989, where she studied Chemistry and obtained her BSc in Chemical Sciences, and MSc degree in Nanomaterials: Chemistry and Physics at Utrecht University. As part of her MSc degree she spent four month at City University of Hong Kong, and carried out her MSc thesis research at SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research. She obtained her PhD in 2017 at Utrecht University, in the group of Dr Ingmar Swart. Since 2018 she is a research fellow with the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, focussing on the synthesis and characterisation of self-assembled magnetic structured.

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