Bill Robinson

Paihau—Robinson Research Institute is named to honour the late Dr Bill Robinson—inspirational scientist, seismic engineer and early champion of HTS technology.

A profile image of Bill Robinson.
Dr Bill Robinson

Education and career

Bill was proud of his working class upbringing in West Auckland, New Zealand. He graduated from the University of Auckland with a Master of Engineering and gained a PhD in physical metallurgy from the University of Illinois.

Bill was appointed to the Physics and Engineering Laboratory (PEL) at the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) in 1967 where he was involved in the study of Antarctic sea ice, developed new ultrasonic techniques for solid state physics and researched devices to prevent earthquake damage.

Bill also supported research in a new field—high temperature superconductivity. He was the director of PEL from 1985 to 1991.

Seismic isolation devices

The lead-rubber bearing, a device fitted to the foundation of a building or structure, isolates it from ground movements and prevents damage in earthquakes. The bearing, which consists of layers of rubber and steel with a lead core, was invented by Bill in 1974. It is now estimated to be protecting more than US$100 billion worth of structures around the world including the C-1 building in Tokyo, numerous bridges, and has been applied as Te Papa Tongarewa Quake Braker.

In the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, staff in Christchurch Women’s Hospital reported that the base-isolated building did not shake wildly but instead moved gently from side to side. It was operational immediately after the large quakes, unlike neighbouring hospital buildings that sustained significant damage.

Bill founded Robinson Seismic in 1995 to continue the development of seismic protection and damping devices.

Later life

A near-fatal stroke at age 52 left Bill in hospital for four months and required him to learn to walk, drive and write again. His indomitable spirit saw him back at work in six months and he went on to invent the RoballTM and the RogliderTM base isolation systems for medium-weight and low rise buildings. He died in 2011 at the age of 72.


  • 2007 Companion of the Queen’s Service Order.
  • 1999 Rutherford Medal, Royal Society of New Zealand.
  • 1995 Honorary Doctorate, Victoria University of Wellington.
  • 1994 Cooper Medal, Royal Society of New Zealand.
  • 1992 Hutton Medal, New Zealand Institute of Physics.
  • 1991 Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.
  • 1978 Mechaelis Memorial Prize for Physics, University of Otago.