Australia’s Top Scientific Contributions

 (21/08/2008 – Catalyst


  1. Nobel Laureate, Sir Frank Macfarlane Brunet dramatically changed our understanding of the immune system. His ground-breaking work has been fundamental to many areas of medical science including successful organ transplants and vaccine design… saving millions of lives.
  2. William James Farrer developed a wheat strain able to avoid disease in the Australian conditions… Federation Wheat enabled Australia to become a world leader in the exportation of the staple grain.
  3. Dr Douglas Waterhouse identified the key ingredients for an insect repellent. He also oversaw the introduction of dung beetles greatly reducing the availability of a popular meal for flies, making life in Australia …well…a lot more bearable. In 2007 Professor Elizabeth Blackburn was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. Blackburn co-discovered telomerase, the enzyme responsible for keeping the tips of our chromosomes healthy. Her work is opening up new fields in cancer and aging research.
  4. In 1945 Professor Sir Howard Florey won the Nobel Prize for his work on the development of the first penicillin-based antibiotic. Because of Florey’s work, every day millions of people worldwide are treated with lifesaving antibiotics.
  5. Professor Graeme Clarke’s bionic ear gifted the powers of hearing and speech to the otherwise severely or profoundly deaf. His cochlear implant has changed the lives of more than 100,000 deaf people in over 55 countries.
  6. Professor Sir William Lawrence Bragg became the youngest Nobel Laureate when he shared the Prize for Physics with his father. Together they were responsible for beginning a whole new branch of physics, x-ray crystallography. This technology allowed Crick & Watson to discover the double helix structure of DNA.
  7. Professor John Shine was the first to clone and express a human hormone, which leads to the cloning of the human growth hormone. Without which, there would be no treatment for over 100,000 children suffering from dwarfism and other growth disorders.
  8. Nobel Prize winner Professor Peter Doherty is an immunologist who discovered how the body’s immune cells protect us against viruses. He clearly demonstrated how killer T-cells organize the systematic destruction of unwanted visitors. He was named Australian of the Year in 1997.
  9. Professor Arthur John Birch formulated a breakthrough procedure that became one of the most widely used methods in synthetic hormone production. As a result, today millions of women worldwide take the oral contraceptive pill.
  10. Professor Ian Frazer is best known for developing the cervical cancer vaccine. His research could virtually eradicate cervical cancer within a generation.
  11. Famously, Professor Frank Fenner introduced Myxomatosis to control Australia’s rabbit plague… but by far his greatest achievement was overseeing the worldwide smallpox program, completely eradicating the deadly disease.
  12. Nobel laureates, Professor Barry Marshall and Emeritus Professor Robin Warren identified the bacterium responsible for peptic ulcers. Now, crippling stomach ache and invasive surgery can be avoided by taking a simple course of antibiotics.
  13. Lawrence Hargrave linked together four of his box kites, added a sling for a seat and flew sixteen feet into the air. This vital step in man’s quest to fly opened new doors for the many other pioneering aviators that were to follow.
  14. Professor Sir Mark Oliphant was part of a ground-breaking group that developed the nuclear age. Involved in the US Manhattan Project, he helped develop the first atomic bomb and the research that led to applications in both nuclear energy and medicine.
  15. Professor Sir John Eccles won a Noble prize for his pioneering work on the chemical signals transmitted by nerve cells. This discovery remains the cornerstone of our understanding of the Central Nervous System, the workings of the brain and the treatment of neurological disease. 
  16. Professor Jenny Graves is known for her theories on the origin and evolution of mammalian sex chromosomes … and her controversial hypothesis that the male or ‘Y’ chromosome will one day be redundant. 
  17. Professor Fiona Stanley an epidemiologist established a data set on the entire child population of Western Australia. This unique information allowed Professor Stanley to show that a lack of folic acid in an unborn child can result in spina bifida.
  18. Sir Alan Walsh developed atomic absorption spectroscopy, which can detect the tiniest traces of chemicals in samples. This work has been described as ‘The most significant advance in a chemical analysis last century’.
  19. Sir Gustav Nasal has been one of the most significant players in Australian science since the Second World War. His early work on how antibodies form remains one of the keystones of modern immunology.


  • Reporter: Dr. Graham Phillips

  • Producer: Max Lloyd

  • Editor: Chris Spurr