Early Innovations in Science and Medicine

After the outbreak of war in 1914, supplies of aspirin from the Bayer company in Germany were cut off and the government of the day offered a patent to anyone who could find a substitute of equal or greater purity. Pharmacist

George Nicholas and experimenter Henry Woolf Shmith set about the challenge, and on 12 June 1915 came up with Aspro, which not only equalled but actually surpassed aspirin in purity.

Accidentally discovered by Scottish scientist Sir Alexander Fleming in 1928, penicillin was not put to regular clinical use until the antibiotic was developed into a practical drug by a team of scientists at England's Oxford University, led by Adelaide-born Lord Howard Florey together with German-born biochemist Sir Ernst Chain in 1940. In Britain, the new drug was initially reserved mainly for military use. First commercial quantities for civilian use were produced by Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (now CSL Limited) in 1943 in Australia.

Born in Windsor, New South Wales in 1834, the great comet hunter John Tebbutt never set foot outside his native Australia. Despite this, he became one of the great pioneers of astronomy in the 19th century, and published 371 papers on everything from eclipses and the position of the planets to meteorology. His more than 700 observations and recordings of comets, planets and stars in the southern hemisphere were in great demand for orbit computations.

Born in Traralgon, Victoria in 1899, Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet was one of the world's greatest immunologists and virologists. In 1960 he shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine, together with British scientist Sir Peter Medawar, for the discovery of acquired immunological tolerance.

At the age of 25, Adelaide-born Sir William Laurence Bragg was, and remains, the youngest ever winner of a Nobel Prize. With his English-born father Sir William Henry Bragg, he shared the 1915 prize for physics, for their work on x-ray diffraction of crystals at Cambridge University. Together they explained how x-rays pass through matter and how to picture the shape and structure of molecules, and how they work.

Heart pacemakers have come a long way since 1929 when an American scientist patented the pacemaker. In 1958 the world's first practical pacemaker was developed in Sweden. Since then, most of the innovations have come from the United States, but an Australian company, Telectronics Pty Limited did lead the world on and off from 1963 through to 1981 with a number of world first developments and improvements. The first of these was the integration of a chip circuit into the pacemaker making it considerably smaller. The second in 1973 was the use of titanium in pacemaker casings, making them light and impervious to body fluids.

The work of David Robinson and George Kossoff at the Australian Department of Health, resulted in the development of the first commercially practical water path ultrasonic scanner in 1961. Ultrasound is used for examining human organs, particularly the developing foetus of pregnant women and can identify a number of abnormalities and congenital disorders. The innovation was commercialised in 1975 by Ausonics Pty Ltd.

  • Early Innovations in Agriculture
  • Early Innovations in Transport
  • Early Innovations in Communications
  • Early Innovations in Science and Medicine
  • Imaginative Innovations
  • Notable Australian World Firsts from 1838 to 1995.

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    Print Edition: ISBN 0646252119 - Paperback - 224 pages - 350 illustrations - $55.00 incl. GST.

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