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The Significant Life of R.A. Fisher: Mathematician / Statistician / Geneticist

Curator: Cheryl Hoskin

From the 1920s to today, Ronald Fisher’s ground-breaking work has revolutionised the design of experiments. The exhibition explores the achievements of this gifted thinker, through his research papers and own writings which were donated to the University of Adelaide Library. To this day, Fisher’s extraordinary contributions continue to influence in many branches of human thought and endeavour.

The exhibition was presented in association with the International Biometric Society (IBS) Australasian Region Conference, December 2019.

Early Life and FamilySir Ronald Aylmer Fisher was born on the 17th February 1890 in East Finchley, London, to the auctioneer George Fisher and his wife Katie (Heath). Learn more

Fisher as a child

Early ResearchIn April 1912, while still a student, Fisher published his first mathematical paper ‘On an Absolute Criterion for Fitting Frequency Curves,’ introducing what would become known as the method of maximum likelihood.  Learn more

Fisher with Student

Rothamsted Experimental Station 1919-1933In 1919 John Russell of the Rothamsted Experimental Station went to Cambridge in search a statistician who could make some sense of the mass of data which had accumulated during 80 years of crop trials. Learn more


University College, London 1933-1943 In 1933 Fisher accepted the position of Galton Professor of Eugenics at University College, London. The position reflected Fisher’s unique qualifications. Learn more


Balfour Chair of Genetics at Cambridge 1943-1957With no unit or funding left at University College London, Fisher accepted election to the Balfour Chair of Genetics at Cambridge in 1943. Learn more


Adelaide (1959)Following Fisher’s retirement, Dr E.A. (Alf) Cornish invited him to Australia for a six month stay. Fisher so enjoyed his visit that he decided in July to make his home in Adelaide Learn more


Fisher’s CharacterIn appearance, Fisher had a large head with an intense gaze behind thick pebble glasses. He was usually scruffily dressed and persistently smoked a pipe stuffed with pungent tobacco. Learn more


EugenicsFisher had faith that individuals would choose the eternal good of mankind rather than their own temporary and personal comfort, and that eugenics advocated a simplification of lives. Learn more


Iowa and IndiaIn 1931 and 1936 Fisher travelled to Iowa in the United States of America and then in 1938 toured India. During his travels he lectured at Iowa State University and Calcutta University, as well a presented to conferences. Learn more


Recognition and AwardsFisher was awarded extensively for his research and contributions to scientific endeavours, receiving a wide variety of honorary doctorates and memberships worldwide.  Learn more


Fishers legacy at the University of AdelaideAfter Fisher’s death his extensive collection of research papers, writings and correspondence with scientists, and all rights therein, were deposited with the Barr Smith Library. Learn more


OtherA selection of items from Fisher's collection held in Rare Books & Manuscripts, including some examples of Fisher's preparation work for new editions of his works. Learn more

University Library

Barr Smith Library
South Australia 5005


Phone: +61 8 8313 5224