FOUR SCIENCE NOBEL PRIZE WINNERS AND A NEW GEOLOGICAL PERIOD in Earth’s history are highlights of an exceptional contribution by Adelaide to science.
The Nobel laureates Lawrence Bragg, Howard Florey and J. Robin Warren were all products of St Peter’s College and Adelaide University. The other laureate, Lawrence Bragg’s father William, built up an excellent science department at Adelaide University in the late 19th Century before his work in X rays and electromagnetism led to him being offered a post at Leeds University in 1908.
William Bragg married Gwendoline Todd, daughter of South Australia’s postmaster and telegraphy superintendent Charles Todd, famed for the Adelaide-Darwin telegraph line link but also for his beloved astronomy and meteorology that the telegraphy supported.
Family and other links are a hallmark of South Australian science.
Nobel Prize winner for medicine, J. Robin Warren (2005) was part of the Adelaide’s Verco medical family dynasty, going back to the 19th Century and Joseph Cooke Verco, who in 1885, along with Edward Stirling, he helped found the University of Adelaide medical school.
Joseph Verco, whose scientific interests extended to marine life, was president (1903-21) of the Royal Society of South Australia that still awards the Verco Medal for outstanding work. Winners, since 1929, have included Walter Howchin, J.B. Cleland, T Harvey-Johnstone, Douglas Mawson, H.G. Andrewartha, Pat Thomas, M.F. Glaessner, Michael Tyler, Bill Williams, Michael Archer and Tom White.
Another medallist Reg Spriggs shared Joseph Verco’s boyhood love of collecting shells (along with Adelaide Nobel laureate Lawrence Bragg). Spriggs would go on to rewrite the history of life on Earth by adding another geological period, when he discovered 500-million-year-old Ediacaran fossils in the Flinders Ranges in 1946.
SOUTH AUSTRALIAN LITERARY AND SCIENTIFIC ASSOCIATION FORMED IN 1834
David Beveridge Adamson brought technical ability and scientific curiosity to early Adelaide, as an important member of a small group influencing the city’s social and intellectual life in its pre-university days. Adamson arrived with his family from Scotland in 1839. He was a carpenter and wheelwright, along with father James and brother Adam. They set up a business making agricultural implements in Adelaide in 1840. This became Adamson Brothers ( James Beveridge and John Hazel were partners) in the 1850s, with branches in Kapunda, Auburn and Laura. Their wheat harvesters and strippers (based on John Ridley’s invention) won a high reputation for quality. The mainly self-educated David Adamson had an insatiable interest in science and mechanics. He built furniture and musical instruments, claiming (in 1876) to have made the colony’s first violin in 1841. He designed and built a valuable collection of scientific instruments, mechanical appliances and toys used in his public lectures and demonstrations. He ardently studied astronomy, assembling a Gregorian and a Newtonian telescope, an orrery (made about 1870, held by the Royal Astronomical Society of South Australia) and a Foucault's gyroscope. He was fellow of the Philosophical Society (later Royal Society) of South Australia from 1867. A founder of Chalmers Church, Adamson supported societies such as the Young Men's Christian Association, sharing his parents’ and siblings’ strong commitment to church and community. Adamson promoted bodies such as the chamber of manufactures and the destitute board.
ADELAIDE BLESSED WITH LEARNED 19th CENTURY MIGRANTS FROM EUROPE
Charles Todd is most famous for overseeing the overland telegraph project from Adelaide to Darwin, enabling the link to London. But Todd's telegraphy feats enabled his love of astronomy and meteorology. Todd had started his career in 1841 at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. In 1855, astronomer royal George Airy selected Todd as observer and superintendent of electric telegraph for the South Australian government. Todd continued his astronomy alongside his technological advances.
William Henry Bragg built a solid foundation of academic science in South Australia during 23 years at Adelaide University from 1886. Arriving with first class honours from Cambridge University, Bragg was appointed, aged 23, the Elder professor of mathematics and experimental physics at Adelaide University. Bragg found that, of the 100 full-course students at the young Adelaide university, only a few were at the science school. It was so poorly equipped that Bragg apprenticed himself to a company that taught him how to make instruments. Bragg built up science student numbers as an able and popular lecturer. He encouraged a student union to be formed. Science teachers were able to attend his lectures free of charge. Bragg gave a public demonstration of Marconi's wireless in 1897. Bragg came to Adelaide as a skilled mathematician a limited knowledge of physics, most of which was in the form of applied mathematics he had learnt at Trinity College, Cambridge. During his time in Adelaide, Bragg's interest in physics developed, particularly in the field of electromagnetism. The university’s first female graduate, Emily Dornwell, was also the first person in Australia to receive the degree of bachelor of science (1885).
MEETING OF A RANGE OF GREAT CURIOUS MINDS
SOUTH AUSTRALIAN MUSEUM A FOCAL POINT FOR WIDER STUDIES
ADELAIDE PRODUCES PLAYERS AT THE FRONTIERS OF 20th CENTURY SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE
The 1915 Nobel Prize for physics, shared by William Bragg and son Lawrence, had its first steps in Adelaide.The Braggs won the prize for “the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays”. In 1896, Bragg showed Adelaide doctors the use of X-rays with equipment supplied locally. Philanthropist Robert Barr Smith financed radium bromide for Bragg to continue experiments. Bragg later wrote “On the ionisation curves of radium” with Adelaide University student Richard Kleeman.
Adelaide Observatory, under South Australian government astronomer George Dodwell, played its part in a concerted effort to test Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity in 1922. Einstein’s prediction that starlight was deflected by the Sun could be tested by photos during a total eclipse. The eclipse over Australia in 1922 was ideal for the test and Cordillo Downs sheep station, in South Australia's far north-east was (with Wallal in Western Australia and Goondiwindi in Queensland) a site for expeditions by international observer scientists. The 1922 expedition, organised by the Adelaide Observatory on West Terrace, brought the latest equipment. The Allegheny Observatory in Pennsylvania had loaned a quadruplet camera for photographing the eclipse field Lick Observatory in Western Australia a 40-feet lens for photographing the Sun’s corona. Under a clear Cordillo Downs sky, with 3 minutes 52 seconds of total eclipse, four plates were obtained with the Allengeny camera and 14 with the coronograph. Calculations were made by C.R. Davidson of the Greenwich Observatory, London. Astronomer royal Frank Dyson told Dodwell that “under difficult conditions, you have every reason to be satisfied and I offer heartiest congratulations” on the Cordillo Downs result. Dodwell, who'd been helped by Adelaide University physics professor Kerr Grant in the expedition, was proud of the result. When South Australian optometrists Carl Laubmann and Harold Pank made a world research trip, Dodwell arranged for them to personally deliver a report on the South Australian observations to Albert Einstein.
Howard Walter Florey, pharmacologist and pathologist, shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1945 with Ernst Boris Chain and Alexander Fleming, for making penicillin. Although Fleming is credited with discovering it, Florey made penicillin in quantities that saved millions of lives. Howard was educated at Kyre College (now Scotch College) and St Peter's College. Studying medicine at Adelaide University (1917-21), he met Ethel Reed, who became his wife and colleague.
J. Robin Warren's mother’s family arrived with the first European settlers in 1836-37. From them came the Verco dynasty of doctors. Warren’s 2005 Nobel Prize for medicine honors that tradition. Warren trained at Royal Adelaide Hospital and became registrar at the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science. In 1963, he was honorary clinical assistant in pathology and honorary registrar in haematology at Royal Adelaide Hospital. He lectured in pathology at Adelaide University.
TAKING SCIENTIFIC CURIOSITY TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH
Takeover of Adelaide Observatory in 1940 by the University of Adelaide signalled its end, although it didn’t finally close until 1952. The observatory on West Terrace, Adelaide, only had two South Australian government astronomers in charge: Charles Todd, who started it in 1880, and George Dodwell, who took over in 1909 and stayed to the end. In 1908, the observatory’s meteorology had been taken over by the commonwealth government and it lost most of its staff. Under Dodwell, the observatory took on astronomical and other work. Observing and photographing eclipses became a priority, with international involvement in the 1922 Cordillo Downs venture a highlight. From 1930, Adelaide joined other observatories around the globe monitoring the Chandler wobble of the Earth’s axis. Seismographs installed in 1909 and 1925 allowed the observatory to measure earthquake components. The observatory was involved in meteor searches after sightings. Dodwell discovered what became Comet Dodwell-Forbes during a photo search in 1932. Dodwell led expeditions on a magnetic survey of South Australia, with the Carnegie Institution in Washington. Latitudes and longitudes were fixed as part of general survey of the state. The observatory also did education work, including lectures and continued the practice from the 1880s of allowing public visit son Friday evenings. The observatory merged with the university in 1930 and came under into its control in 1940. The university had its own observatory from the 1950s. Dodwell continued until retiring in 1949 and doing three more years contract work.
A RICH TRADITION OF RESEARCH
The three main South Australian universities have been bastions of science and research. Adelaide, the third oldest Australian university, is consistently ranked in the top 1% worldwide. It has produced four science Nobel laureates. Flinders University is a member of the Innovative Research Universities Group. The University of South Australia was formed in 1991 with the merger of the South Australian Institute of Technology (1889) and Colleges of Advanced Education (1956).
SOUTH AUSTRALIANS PROMINENT IN SPREADING THE SCIENCE MESSAGE
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) has become the new emphasis in South Australian education.The state government strategy is for every primary school in South Australia to have at least one STEM specialist teacher by 2019. This will involve additional training for 500 teachers. A $250 million STEM Works program will see upgrades at 139 government and non-government schools, improving the science, technology learning areas used by 75,000 students.