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.
MEETING OF A RANGE OF GREAT CURIOUS MINDS
SOUTH AUSTRALIAN MUSEUM A FOCAL POINT FOR WIDER STUDIES
PUSHING THE FRONTIERS OF 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.
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
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.