Reg Sprigg's discovery of 500-million-years-old fossils in the Flinders Ranges in 1946 added the Ediacaran era to the Earth's geological history.


among Adelaide gifts to scientific knowledge


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.



Frederick Waterhouse brings back inland specimens for museum

Royal Society of South Australia's origins stem from an association formed in London, 1834

The Royal Society of South Australia’s origins could be traced to 1834 –­ before the colony’s founding– when the South Australian Literary and Scientific Association was formed in Adelphi Chambers, London. Among those to form the association were Robert Gouger, Richard Hanson, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, John Morphett, Robert Torrens and John Hindmarsh. The next phase was in 1853 with the Adelaide Philosophical Society that morphed into Royal Society of South Australia in 1880.


Institute building centre of public learning, including scientific, before university opens

The colonial government decided to establish a South Australian Institute in 1856. The Institute building opened on North Terrace in 1860. It housed the library, reading room, art gallery, a museum, a school of art and design, and meeting rooms of groups such as the Philosophical Society and South Australian Society of Arts. Lectures on technical and scientific subjects made it an adult education centre and the only public place in the colony providing education beyond primary level.


Frederick Waterhouse adds his insect and bird collection as first curator of SA Museum

Frederick Waterhouse, first curator of South Australian Institute Museum, was a zoologist and entomologist who contributed significantly to Australia’s natural history. Waterhouse had worked with brother George at the British Museum (Natural History). George declined an offer to join Darwin's voyage on the Beagle. But Frederick Waterhouse went on John McDouall Stuart inland Australia expedition (1861-62) and returned to Adelaide with bird and mammal skins, insects and plants.

Early churchmen kept intellectual debate alive trying to reconcile science, scriptures

Dissenter headmaster John Lorenzo Young and colleagues formed the Adelaide Philosophical Society (later Royal Society of South Australia) in 1853. The society discussed reconciling science (especially Darwinian) with faith beliefs. In 1860, nonconformist former premier and chief justice Richard Hanson was voted out as society president after he upset Bible Society members with his views. But Hanson and other church ministers led the way to founding Adelaide University in 1876, 

David Adamson brings technical ability and intellectual curiosity to early South Australia

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. 


adding to the impact on science of Charles Todd, William Bragg

Richard Schomburgk's world of naturalistic knowledge brought to Botanic Garden in 1865

Moritz Richard Schomburgk, director of the Adelaide Botanic Garden for 25 years from 1865, came to South Australia with a background immersed in naturalism, including contact with Alexander von Humboldt, a giant in 19th Century science. The contact with Humboldt came through Schomburgk joining his naturalist brother Robert on a joint British/Prussian scientific expeditions to British Guyana in the 1830s/40s. As Adelaide Botanic Garden director from 1965, Schomburgk developed the Palm House (a tropical house for Victoria amazonica) and the Museum of Economic Botany. He encouraged Adelaide street tree plantings, early forest conservation, and the major plantings in Adelaide's Botanic Park. Under his directorship, numerous potential crop plants, particularly forage and pasture species, were tried. He fought for a proper sewerage system for Adelaide after one of his five daughters died of typhoid fever from polluted water.


Johannes Menge, Otto Tepper, Ferdinand von Mueller among other big German influencers

German contributions to South Australian science ranged from Johannes Menge, made colonial geologist by the South Australian Company even before European settlement, to Marianne von Kreusler whose exchanges with scientists worldwide resulted in a major collection of plants, insects and minerals. Others included Ferdinand von Mueller, with an 1852 paper on “The flora of South Australia”, and Otto Tepper, natural history collector at the South Australian Museum from 1883.


Charles Todd's love of astronomy behind Adelaide-Darwin link and other telegraphy

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 Bragg puts science at young Adelaide University on an eminent footing

William Henry Bragg built a solid foundation of academic science in South Australia during 23 years at Adelaide University from 1886. While he built the size and standard of science at the new university, Bragg enhanced his own knowledge of physics, particularly electromagnetism. Adelaide University’s first female graduate, Emily Dornwell, was also the first person in Australia to receive a bachelor of science (1885). It also graduated Australia's first female surgeon Laura Fowler (1891).  



JOSEPH VERCO add to geology, natural science and medicine

South Australia turns Julian Tenison-Woods into priest, Josephites founder and geologist

Julian Tenison Woods, who published his first book, Geological Observations in South Australia, in 1862, is otherwise known as the founder, with Mary MacKillop, of the Australia’s first Roman Catholic order: the Josephite nuns, at Penola in 1866. Woods, who studied for the priesthood at the Jesuit college in Sevenhill, had his interest in geology stimulated by the Penola district. He stayed involved with natural history beyond his turbulent time as the Catholic education leader in Adelaide.


Ralph Tate revives science and Royal Society; uncovers ancient local geology

The arrival of Ralph Tate in 1875, to take over the Elder chair of natural science at the year-old Adelaide University, helped revive the scientific awareness in the colony and beyond. He revived and converted the Adelaide Philosophical Society into the Royal Society of South Australia, as its first president. He found impressive evidence of former geological glaciation at Hallett Cove. He also published on zoolology and a Handbook of the Flora of Extratropical South Australia (1890)


Edward Stirling brilliant all-round scientist; helps start uni medical school in 1885

Edward Stirling become one of Australia’s best all-round 19th Century scientists – with many contributions to South Australian life beyond science. Completing his education in England with honours in natural science and as a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, he returned to Adelaide in 1881  as lecturer in physiology at Adelaide University where he helped start the medical school. Among many interests, Stirling was chairman and honorary director of the South Australian Museum.


Naturalist and surgeon Joseph Verco's life in parallel to Stirling as medical school founder

Joseph Cooke Verco’s life has parallels with Edward Stirling who joined him in founding Adelaide University’s medical school in 1885. After becoming a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (1877) in London, Verco returned to start the Adelaide University medical school with Stirling. Stirling sometimes accompanied Verco on expeditions into his other interest: collecting marine life speciments that helped to form one of the world's outstanding collections at the South Australian Museum. 


being written on a much broader scale in the early 20th Century 

Conservationist Samuel White completes his bird survey of whole of South Australia

Samuel White's major feat was to complete an ornithological survey of the whole of South Australia and much of the Northern Territory in the early 20th Century. Son of a noted ornithologist from a pioneer family, White was born at Reedbeds (Fulham) in 1870 and eventually inherited wealth. His major expeditions included to the Musgrave and Everard ranges (1914), Cooper Creek (1916); Nullarbor Plains (1917-18), and, with Edgeworth David and Walter Howchin, to the Finke River (1921). 


Clergyman Walter Howchin write the textbook on geology of South Australia

Walter Howchin straddled the gap between science and god-based beliefs in South Australia in the early 20th Century. The geologist and Primitive Methodist minister moved from England in 1881 for health reasons. He started a 53-year association with the Royal Society of South Australia in 1883 and he became lecturer in geology and palaeontology at Adelaide University in 1902. His book The Geology of South Australia (1918) remained a student text for 40 years.

Norman Tindale's map of Aboriginals' tribal areas contradicts the notion of terra nullius

South Australian Museum anthropologist Norman Tindale contributed greatly to unveiling a key part of Aboriginal settlement of Australia. Over 50 years from the 1920s – parallel to his time as museum anthropologist, scientist and director – Tindale compiled his Tribal Boundaries of Aboriginal Australia. The map went against the orthodox view of Aboriginals by showing strong attachment to tribal territory and contradicting terra nullius (empty land) when Europeans arrived. In 1927, as secretary of the Anthropological Society of South Australia, Tindale was challenged by Rodney Cockburn, author of Nomenclature of South Australia (1908), and biased towards colonial, rather than Indigenous, naming practices. Cockburn wanted to prove “how utterly unreliable is the distribution of native names on our map as denoting or marking or fixing the territorial boundaries of the different tribes.” In response, Tindale verified 2000 Indigenous place names in the south east of South Australia.


E.R. Waite becomes champion of natural science as museum director 1914-28

Edgar Ravenswood Waite, director of the South Australian Museum 1914-28, was a major influence on natural science in the state. In 1918, he made collecting trips to New Guinea, New Britain and New Ireland, and in 1926 inspected museums in the USA and Europe. Waite published diversely and prolifically, mostly on vertebrate taxonomy, particularly fishes, reptiles and mammals. His wrote The Fishes of South Australia (1923) and he Reptiles and Amphibians of South Australia (1928).



Nobel Prize science laureates associated with Adelaide University

Adelaide backs William Bragg's first use of X rays probing atomic structure in crystals

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.

Charles Todd's grandson Lawrence Bragg the youngest Nobel laureate with his father in 1915

Lawrence Bragg had a head start in being the youngest person, at 25, to win a Nobel Prize. Born in North Adelaide in 1890, his early interest in science and mathematics could be expected to flow from his father, William Bragg, professor of mathematics and physics at Adelaide University. But his mother Gwendoline was the daughter of Charles Todd, South Australia’s postmaster general and astronomer general who completed the epic Adelaide-Darwin telegraph project in the 1870s.


Howard Florey's use of penicillin produces the quantities needed to save millions of lives

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.


Robin Warren's 2005 prize a peak honour for Adelaide Verco family dynasty of doctors

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.


DOUGLAS MAWSON, GEORGE WILKINS, MARK OLIPHANT, REG SPRIGG boldly take science to new frontiers in the 20th Century

South Australia's glacial geology inspires Douglas Mawson's two Antarctic expeditions

Douglas Mawson legendary part in expeditions to the Antarctic (1907-09 and 1910-13) was inspired by his interest in the glacial geology of South Australia. Mawson came to Adelaide in 1905 as university lecturer in mineralogy and petrology. Antarctica attracted him because it extended his studies in South Australia where he came "face to face with a great accumulation of glacial sediments of Precambrian age, the greatest thing of the kind recorded anywhere in the world”.

George Wilkins makes epic flights over Arctic and Antarctic to add to climate science

George Hubert Wilkins, explorer, naturalist, photographer, geographer and climatologist was born at Mount Bryan East in 1888, the 13th child of a farmer. From Wilkins’ early experience of drought’s devastation grew an interest in climatic phenomena. As a newspaper reporter and cameraman, who learned to fly and try aerial photography, Wilkins’ life turned into an global adventure that included epic scientific exploration flights over the Arctic and Antarctic 

Mark Oliphant at cutting edge of nuclear fission and Manhattan atom bomb project

Mark Oliphant played a key role in the first experimental demonstration of nuclear fission and in developing nuclear weapons. Graduating from Adelaide University in 1922, Oliphant won a scholarship that allowed him to study under Ernest Rutherford at Cambridge’s University's Cavendish laboratory and make breakthroughs in nuclear fission. He was on the MAUD Committee that confirmed an atomic bomb was feasible. He was involved in the Manhattan atom bomb project.


Reg Sprigg's Flinders fossil find leads to new Ediacaran age in geological history

Reg Sprigg has belatedly been recognised for his major contribution to science. Spriggs discovered 500-million-year-old Ediacaran fossils in the Flinders Ranges, in 1946. But his case that the fossils were possibly Precambrian was rejected by the journal Nature and the 1948 International Geological Congress. Later, Adelaide University's Martin Glaessner showed the fossils were Precambrian. From this came the Ediacaran Period, the first geological era created in more than 100 years.



further scientific research tradition of Roseworthy, Waite, IMVS

Agriculture pushes first research; Roseworthy opened in 1883 and Waite now powerhouse

Agriculture drove early South Australian scientific research, with Roseworthy as Australia’s first agricultural college from 1883. The college was a forerunner of the government department of agriculture. Adelaide University's Waite campus has the largest concentration of plant science research in the southern hemisphere. It has more than 1,000 staff, including partners from the South Australian Research and Development Institute, the Australian Wine Research Institute and the CSIRO.


Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science in 1938 links pathology to public health, research

The Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science (IMVS) began in 1938 as an offshoot from the Royal Adelaide Hospital laboratories. Trent Champion de Crespigny, an eminent physician, hospital medical superintendent and dean of medicine (1929-47) envisaged an institute combining laboratory services, teaching and research. In 2008, the IMVS, renamed SA Pathology, merged with the Women’s and Children’s Hospital pathology department and Flinders Medical Centre’s South Path.


Biomedical precinct on North Terrace melds three universities' research with SAMRI

The biomedical research precinct on western North Terrace integrates health knowledge from hospitals, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and the three universities. The $3 billion worth of buildings include the $2.3 billion new Royal Adelaide Hospital, the $200 million SAHMRI building, the $231 million University of Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences building and The University of South Australia’s $230m Innovation and Collaboration Centre

Three universities drive research from environment to biology to nanotechnology

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).


'THE CURIOSITY SHOW' TO ANDY THOMAS TO RiAus TO STEM: state's science awareness keeps on bubbling away in background

Jack Becker's name erased from Canberra dome despite biggest gift to science academy

One of Canberra’s most iconic buildings, the Australian Academy of Science dome, previously carried the name of South Australian entrepreneur Jack Becker. At a time when it was struggling to repay debt on the dome, completed in 1959, Becker gave £200,000 to the Australian Academy of Science in 1961-62. Academy president Professor T. M. Cherry saluted Becker’s donation as “substantially greater than any single gift that a scientific academy had ever received, including the Royal Society of London”. Becker became involved with the academy through the chain of being a Timor Oil company director with R. Dodson, a client of Melbourne solicitor Gavin Laver, friend of academy treasurer Dr I.W. Wark. After meeting Wark in Adelaide, Becker said he appreciated the academy’s work and science, especially after experiments on improving merino sheep and other research by his Smithfield Pastoral Co. and work by CSIRO’s Dr David Riemann on Becker’s Keith property that transformed the Ninety Mile Desert with soil trace elements. Becker’s first £100,000 to the academy was to promote its scientific interests with senior fellowships, symposia, lectures and exchange visits. But, with banks wanting debt repaid on the academy’s dome, Becker gave another £100,000. In appreciation, the building was called Becker House, and Becker was elected to the academy fellowship. In 2000, the dome was updated, with $1 million from academy fellow Professor John Shine and $525,000 from the national council for the Centenary of Federation. The building's name became Shine Dome.

Adelaide's 'Curiosity Show' brings science to children's television for nearly 20 years

Adelaide was the source of Australia’s longest-running successful television children’s shows with a science base. The Curiosity Show (1972-90), hosted by zoologist Dr Rob Morrison and Dr Dean Hutton, had its 500 episodes produced by Banksia Productions for the Nine Network. The Curiosity Show won national and international awards, including the coveted Prix Jeunesse in 1984, voted by peers around the world as the best factual program for children.


Andy Thomas takes state's Waterhouse science tradition into space for NASA

Andy Thomas, Australia’s first space astronaut, is a towering reminder of the state’s science tradition – as the great great grandson of Frederick George Waterhouse, first curator of the South Australian Institute Museum. Thomas made four space missions during 22 years with NASA in the United States. Educated at St Andrew’s Primary School, Walkerville; St Peter’s College and Adelaide University, in 1978 he joined Lockheed in Atlanta, USA, rising to principal aerodynamic scientist by 1990.


RiAus (Royal Institution of Australia) spreading science message from old exchange building

The Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus), in the former Adelaide Stock Exchange building, is spreading science information with offshoots such as the Australian Science Media Centre and Australia’s first dedicated science TV channel. The Royal Institution is a national scientific not-for-profit body to “bring science to people and people to science”. The RIAus concept was proposed by professor Susan Greenfield while thinker in residence for the South Australian government (2004-05). 


New emphasis on Science Technology Engineering Maths (STEM) in schools

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.


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