About Barry Ninham


My Story

Barry Ninham was educated as a Mathematical Physicist at the University of Western Australia and the University of Maryland. His Ph.D was on the Quantum Statistical Mechanics of the Electron Gas. Joint work of Barry Ninham and V. Adrian Parsegian in the1960’s led to new insights into the subtleties of molecular forces in condensed media. This led to Ninham’s appointment in 1970 as Foundation Professor and Head of a new research Department of Applied Mathematics (Natural Sciences) in the Institute of Advanced Studies at the Australian National University. Groups he recruited and led also included a very successful department in Optical Sciences for several decades.

But his principal research focus was on Colloid and Surface Chemistry in which his Department became and remains a leading international center. Pioneering direct measurement of molecular forces between molecularly smooth surfaces in liquids was accomplished via a then newly constructed Surface Forces Apparatus with a group under Jacob Israelchvili. Later force measurement work was done via the AFM Colloid probe technique developed in the Department.

Barry Bust 1200 sml

Ninham is probably best recognised for his work in theory in molecular forces; and self assembly in solution of surfactants and lipids, vesicles, micelles, microemulsions, emulsions and their microstructure; and for work on specific ion (Hofmeister) effects. In the last two decades work with which he is associated has focussed attention on the ubiquity of noneuclidean bicontinuous geometries that are opening new vistas in our understanding of microstructure in these areas, from biology to inorganic chemistry and porous media; and for work on the role of dissolved gas in physical chemistry.

Ninham has mentored or directed over 100 students or research fellows who have become full professors. He has published more than 500 papers and 6 books. His fields are not limited to colloid science and span mathematics, biology, chemistry and fundamental physics, chemical engineering and nanotechnology. His work has attracted numerous awards, honours and professorships from Sweden, Germany, Italy, France, Japan, Russia, USA and Australia.

An iconocast by nature, his work over the recent 20 years has been motivated by the startling realisation and demonstration that the foundations of colloid science are seriously flawed. The ramifications, he maintains, are not yet fully appreciated and have wide and exciting implications that open up a new era especially for colloid science in biology. He retired in 2000 and has published over 200 papers since. He is presently a professor emeritus at ANU and works at UNSW at Australian Defence Force Academy and at the University of Florence.

His main interests are in Water on Novel Technologies for the new Millennium.



After decades of research & collaborations, Barry Ninham is the world’s leading expert on colloid and surface science, an interdisciplinary science combining physical, chemical and biological sciences.

Students to Full Professors






Worked with

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If you get the basics right, the rest will follow.

– Barry Ninham

Areas of expertise

  • Surfaces And Structural Properties Of Condensed Matter
  • Atomic And Molecular Physics
  • Medical Biochemistry: Lipids
  • Chemical Thermodynamics And Energetics
  • Electrostatics And Electrodynamics
  • Soft Condensed Matter
  • Electroanalytical Chemistry
  • Electrochemistry
  • Catalysis And Mechanisms Of Reactions
  • Synthesis Of Materials
  • Colloid And Surface Chemistry
  • Biological Physics
  • Fluid Physics
  • Algebraic Structures In Mathematical Physics
  • Physical Organic Chemistry
  • Plasma Physics; Fusion Plasmas; Electrical Discharges
  • Condensed Matter Modelling And Density Functional Theory
  • Solid State Chemistry
  • Structural Chemistry And Spectroscopy
  • Combinatorics And Discrete Mathematics (Excl. Physical Combinatorics)
  • Condensed Matter Imaging
  • Numerical And Computational Mathematics
  • Medicinal And Biomolecular Chemistry
  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Physical Chemistry (Incl. Structural)
  • Other Chemical Sciences
  • Nanotechnology