Dr Maureen Florence Mackay

Dr Mackay (nee Delohery) attended Sydney Church of England Girls Grammar School prior to obtaining a BSc at Sydney University in 1948.  Between 1949 and 1951, she was a demonstrator in Chemistry at the New England University College, Armidale, NSW.

Between 1952 and 1956, Maureen worked as a research assistant for Professor Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin at Oxford University. She assisted Professor Hodgkin with her work on Vitamin B12 and developed an interest in crystallography, publishing with Dorothy on the structure of morphine in 1955. Professor Hodgkin also worked on the structure of cholesterol, penicillin and insulin and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964 “for her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances”. Maureen later expressed disappointment that she hadn’t sought a DPhil from Oxford.

Maureen was a demonstrator in Chemistry and Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Melbourne between 1957 and 1969 and was awarded her PhD for a thesis entitled “Structural Analysis of Some Organic Compounds by X-Ray and Neutron Diffraction” at Melbourne University in 1968.

Under Professor James D Morrison, Dr Mackay was the first woman to be appointed to the Physical Chemistry staff of La Trobe University. Maureen was a Senior Demonstrator between 1970 and 1971 and became an Associate of the Royal Australasian Chemical Institute in 1972. She became a Lecturer, then Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physical Chemistry at La Trobe between 1971 and 1982.  From 1983 Maureen was a Reader in Chemistry at La Trobe University.  Throughout this period, Maureen participated in various committees, maintained membership of professional societies, reviewed articles submitted to scientific journals and acted as an examiner for PhD theses submitted to other Universities.

Dr Maureen Mackay and Dr Vivian Cody at work with the PDP8 computer

Maureen’s PhD students included Drs Christine Sindt, David Hay and Jacqueline Gulbis. With the help of a Weissenberg camera, Maureen taught her students how to measure data from crystals using a beam of X-rays and how to index it, what the data meant, and how to employ simple trigonometry to determine the core parameters used to define any given crystal. Data was collected on equipment run off a PDP8 computer. It was two metres high and half a metre wide, yet with less power than a current pocket calculator; the programs were loaded by strips of paper tape. These students and many others were provided with a wonderful grounding for their later careers.

Dr Mackay’s work involved using X-ray (and neutron) diffraction techniques to establish the solid-state conformational detail for a large number of small molecules. Included among these have been natural products and other small molecules of biological interest, some of which were produced synthetically. The main thrust of the research has been to gain a further understanding, at the molecular level, of the structural features essential for biological activity.

Dr Mackay’s name appears on 196 Articles in Refereed Journals and she has presented 16 papers at national and international conferences. In 2009, she founded the Chemistry Chapter of the La Trobe University Alumni.  Dr Maureen Mackay was recognised as an Emeritus Scholar at La Trobe University.

This post was written on behalf of the late Dr Maureen Florence Mackay by her nephew, Dr John Delohery.