Curriculum Vitae Professor Robert G (Bob) Gilbert

Professor Robert G. Gilbert

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Professor Robert G ('Bob') Gilbert has supervised some 65 PhD and MSc students, and 60 postdoctoral fellows. With over 11000 non-self citations since 1975, he is Australia's most cited polymer chemist. He is author of more than 300 refereed publications and two books. He is currently a member of the Editorial Boards of Biomacromolecules (American Chemical Soc.), Journal of Polymer Science Polymer Chemistry Edition (Wiley), and Polymer (Elsevier).

He was elected Chair of both Polymer and Physical Chemistry Divisions, Royal Australian Chemical Institute, 1995-7 and 1986-8 respectively. He was Chair of the Gordon Conference on Polymer Colloids, 2003. He was Secretary of the IPCG, the International Polymer Colloids Group, 1997-2001; Co-Chair of IUPAC World Chemistry Congress, 2001 and the World Polymer Congress (Macro98) in 1998.

His prizes and awards are:

  • Craig Medal for Chemistry of the Australian Academy of Sciences (2010)
  • Leighton Medal of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (2007); this is the Institute's most prestigious medal and is awarded in recognition of eminent services to chemistry in Australia in the broadest sense.
  • Inaugural Ronald Ottewill Award of the UK Polymer Colloids Forum 2007
  • Applied Research Medal, Royal Australian Chemical Institute (2005)
  • Smith Medal, Royal Australian Chemical Institute (1992) in recognition of outstanding research achievements in chemistry over the preceding decade
  • University of Sydney Excellence in Teaching Award (1992)
  • Australian Institute of Nuclear Science & Engineering Medal (1993) for work in understanding polymerization mechanisms (shared with Prof DH Napper)
  • RACI Polymer Medal (1995)
  • RACI Olle Prize (1996) for his book on emulsion polymerization
  • RACI Physical Chemistry Medal (1998)
  • Australian Centenary Medal (2003) for services to chemistry.

    He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, elected 1994

    He has been very active in IUPAC, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (the world 'governing body' of chemistry): President (1998-2001) of the IUPAC Macromolecular Division; Elected Member of the IUPAC Bureau, 2002-5; Founding Chair (1987-98), and ongoing member, of the IUPAC Working Party on Polymerization Kinetics.

    Research interests

    RGG has developed new experimental and theoretical methods for the characterization of starch and other branched polymers. These new methods open doors for understanding of starch structure-property relations, especially with regard to human health.

    Food with certain digestibility characteristics (including a low glycemic index and an appropriate amount of resistant starch) has major health benefits. Starch is the main component of food, and has a very complex structure over scales from nanometres to millimetres. His research program at the University of Queensland uses a battery of new experimental and theoretical techniques to identify and understand the structural characteristics of starches that influence beneficial digestibility. The research will enable meaningful information to be deduced about the structure of starch from previously uninterpretable data. This will lead to new tools for food and agricultural scientists to devise novel plant varieties and food processing procedures.

    This project will enable farmers and food manufacturers to improve the types, production and marketability of foods with optimal digestibility characteristics such as low glycemic index. This will bring significant health benefits to Australians, because improving the digestibility properties of food will help to reduce obesity (approaching epidemic proportions), diabetes and gastro-intestinal cancers. The research will address these health challenges by transforming the process of identifying and developing desirable grain varieties and food processing techniques. Our primary and secondary industries will benefit economically as the products resulting from our advances reach the domestic and international markets.


    Until the end of 2006, RGG was Professor of Polymer Chemistry at the University of Sydney and Director of the Key Centre for Polymer Colloids.

    His research interests have included the relations between starch structure and nutrition, characterization of polymers, fundamental studies of free radical polymerization and emulsion polymerization mechanisms, as well as his newer work on starch characterization.

    Emulsion polymerization is the commonest means of making a wide variety of industrial polymers, and is a complex process involving many simultaneous separate steps. RGG has developed a full qualitative understanding of all the mechanisms involved, many of which were previously unsuspected or misunderstood. He obtained this qualitative knowledge by developing quantitative mathematical and laboratory tools for yielding the rate coefficients for the individual steps. This has involved a wide variety of novel theoretical and experimental techniques, often developed in collaboration with outstanding experimental colleagues, whereby the effects of these individual steps were isolated and their rate parameters determined. He is responsible for improved understanding of the fundamental mechanisms controlling particle formation, molecular weight distribution, particle sizes, and reaction rates in emulsion polymerization. For propagation, he has shown that the Arrhenius parameters, which dictate the rates for different types of monomers, have different classes of values, and that these classes can in turn be understood qualitatively and quantitatively from fundamental theory (transition state theory and quantum mechanics). As a result of his work, termination has been understood qualitatively and quantitatively as being diffusion-controlled; radical loss from particles by exit has been quantified using diffusion theory; and initiation in emulsion polymerization by the entry of radicals into particles is now understood from fundamental thermodynamic and kinetic precepts, as is particle formation, which controls particle size. With these advances, it is now possible to polymerize simple systems and to predict the molecular architecture that will be formed under chosen conditions, while for more complex systems, trends can be semi-quantitatively predicted and understood. He has also contributed extensively to the fundamental understanding of unimolecular reactions.