Make History

There are all kinds of ways to make your mark. It could be as big as changing the world. As complex as changing minds. Or as fundamental as changing yourself. Whatever big things lie before you, we’re all about helping you make it happen. So, where will you go?

Make History Speaker Series

The Make History Speaker Series will feature high-profile alumni speakers across four events in 2023. These not to be missed panel discussions will explore the challenges of the past, present and future and unlock the mystery of space, cancer cells, equality and more. 

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History in the making

Nobel Prize winners

Five University of Adelaide alumni (so far!) have been awarded Nobel Prizes.

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Top 100

We have 16 subject areas ranked in the global top 100 of the 2021 Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU).

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A history of firsts

Since becoming the first university in South Australia, we have continued our strong reputation of 'firsts'.

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The facts

If our make history video has left you wanting to know more, you can find all the facts relating to each and every snippet right here on this page.

  • First university to admit women

    If we’d had our way, women would have been graduating here from our first cohort. Our founding charter in 1874 stated that both men and women were permitted to matriculate, attend and enrol in classes; and a few women did actually enrol in, and pass, individual subjects in our very early years.

    But the possibility of women graduating from full degrees initially met with resistance from the Colonial Secretary in London. In October 1880, however, the Uni Adelaide Degrees Act was passed, specifically allowing women to graduate. This was the first time this had happened in Australia. The Act then received royal assent by letters patent in March 1881, extending its legitimacy throughout the British Empire.

    Australia’s first female graduate then came from the University of Melbourne in 1883, and the University of Adelaide’s first, Edith Emily Dornwell, in 1885. Edith was the first female Bachelor of Science graduate in Australia. In subsequent years we also proudly conferred degrees on Australia’s joint-first female medicine graduate, Laura Fowler (1891), and the country’s first female Doctor of Music graduate, Ruby Davy (1918).

  • Five Nobel Laureates

    Five University of Adelaide alumni (so far!) have been awarded Nobel Prizes. Some studied here, some taught and/or conducted research. They are:

    • J Robin Warren (Physiology or Medicine, 2005)
    • John M Coetzee (Literature, 2003)
    • Sir Howard Walter Florey (Physiology or Medicine, 1945)
    • Sir William Lawrence Bragg (Physics, 1915)
    • Sir William Henry Bragg (Physics, 1915)
  • A dozen knighthoods (or more)

    The following Adelaide alumni have gone on to receive knighthoods. It's highly likely there are others who've escaped our records.:

    • Sir William Henry Bragg
    • Sir William Lawrence Bragg
    • Sir Edward Byrne
    • Sir Lynton Crosby
    • Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
    • Sir Robert Elliott
    • Sir Howard Florey
    • Sir Edward Holden
    • Sir George Ligertwood
    • Sir Douglas Mawson
    • Sir Philip Messent
    • Sir Thomas Mellis Napier
    • Sir Herbert Parsons
    • Sir Dennis Paterson
  • At least 22 Olympians

    We know that the following Adelaide alumni have represented Australia at either the Summer or Winter Olympics or Paralympics. But it's highly likely there are others who've escaped our records.

    • Juliet Haslam (hockey)
    • Matt Cowdrey (para-swimming)
    • Kate Slatter (rowing)
    • Amber Halliday (rowing)
    • Collier Cudmore (rowing)
    • Hannah Davis (sprint canoe)
    • Annette Edmondson (cycling)
    • Jaime Fernandez (rowing)
    • Marguerite Houston (rowing)
    • James McRae (rowing)
    • Blake Gaudry (trampoline)
    • Christopher Morgan (rowing)
    • Isobel Bishop (water polo)
    • Leanne Choo (badminton)
    • Alexander Hill (rowing)
    • Trevor Smith (hockey)
    • David Fitzsimons (track and field)
    • Grace Bowman (para-equestrian)
    • Maeve Plouffe (cycling)
    • Nikita Haines (diving)
    • Tim Willoughby (rowing)
    • Scott McPhee (Paralympic cycling)
  • A pack of Covid-sniffing canines

    The University of Adelaide is leading Australian research and trials into the use of COVID-19 detector dogs to identify and prevent the spread of the virus. The program is led by Dr Anne-Lise Chaber, with support from Dr Susan Hazel and Associate Professor Charles Caraguel from the University’s School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences. The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (Biosecurity), Australian Border Force and the South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service are also participating.

  • Australia’s first female prime minister

    The Hon. Julia Gillard, AC studied Law and Arts at the University of Adelaide from 1979 to 1981 and went on to become Australia’s first female prime minister in 2010.

  • Treatments for pneumonia, scarlet fever and meningitis

    University of Adelaide alumni and Nobel Prize winner Howard Florey played a key role in the development of penicillin as a pharmaceutical treatment for pneumonia, scarlet fever and meningitis (not to mention infections). While Florey’s work on penicillin occurred later in his life, he began his career studying Medicine at the University between 1917 and 1921.

    His contributions to developing the antibiotic, along with those of Alexander Fleming and Ernst Chain, are estimated to have saved over 200 million lives. Consequently, he is regarded by the Australian scientific and medical community as one of its greatest figures.

  • The first female Queen’s Counsel, Supreme Court judge, and state governor—all in one

    The Hon. Dame Roma Mitchell, AC, DBE, CVO, QC studied law at the University of Adelaide from 1931 to 1934, completing her course in just four years instead of five and winning the David Murray Scholarship Award for the most brilliant student. So began a remarkable life of professional achievement.

    • 1962: Appointed as Australia’s first female Queen's Counsel
    • 1965: Appointed as Australia’s first female Supreme Court judge (South Australia)
    • 1991: Appointed first female governor of an Australian state (South Australia).

    Oh, and another thing we didn’t have time to mention in the TVC, she was also the first female chancellor of an Australian university—ours—from 1983 to 1990.

  • First Aussie to walk in space

    Dr Paul Scully-Power, AM, an oceanographer, was the first Australian-born person to journey into space (1984). 

    In May 1996, University of Adelaide alumnus Dr Andy Thomas, AO achieved the feat. Over a 12-year period, Andy spent a total of 6 months in space across four crewed missions. It was on his third, in 2001, that he became the first Australian to walk in space, spending six-and-a-half hours working outside the International Space Station.

    Andy had graduated here with First Class Honours in Mechanical Engineering in 1973, and completed a PhD in Mechanical Engineering with us in 1978.

  • Helped detect gravitational waves

    University of Adelaide physics researchers were part of the global team that detected gravitational waves for the first time in September 2015 (announced February 2016).

    Our researchers developed and installed the ultra-high-precision optical sensors used to correct laser beam distortion within the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) Scientific Collaboration’s detectors. This was critical in enabling the high sensitivity needed to detect the minute signals.

  • 60 years of fertility research/made lots of babies

    The University’s history in fertility research stretches back to 1958, when Lloyd Cox was appointed as Foundation Professor of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology department, based at Adelaide’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

    In the 1970s, our first donor sperm program was established. And in the 1980s fertility services commenced, bringing our first birth from a frozen embryo. Today, researchers at our Robinson Research Institute continue our pioneering work across four themes:

    • Fertility and Conception
    • Pregnancy and Birth
    • Early Origins of Health
    • Child and Adolescent Health.
  • Launched satellites

    In 1969 our researchers played a leading role in the launch of Australia’s first satellite, WRESAT (Weapons Research Establishment Satellite), making Australia only the third country to build and launch its own satellite.

    Almost 50 years later, in 2017-18, an advanced nanosatellite designed by University of Adelaide alumnus Dr Matthew Tetlow through his company Inovor Technologies—and contributed to by our engineering staff and students—was launched into orbit. Known as a ‘CubeSat’, it was part of an international research project investigating the thermosphere’s relationship to other layers of Earth’s atmosphere, and its effect on our climate.

  • Revived lost languages

    University of Adelaide linguistics researchers have done a great deal of work with Australian Indigenous communities to revive and maintain their endangered languages. Most notably, Professor Rob Amery has played a leading role in reviving the Kaurna language, and Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann with the Barngarla language.

  • A winery

    Home to nearly 70% of Australia's wine and grape research and extension capability, the University of Adelaide’s Waite campus has its own fully functioning vineyard, accompanied by Australia's largest teaching winery—the Hickinbotham-Roseworthy Wine Science Laboratory (HRWSL). The

    HRWSL houses state-of-the-art fermentation and winemaking equipment for teaching oenology students and conducting research.

  • 1,600 leading academics

    In 2020 we employed 1,616 academic staff at the University of Adelaide.

  • Top 100 in…all this stuff

    The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) ranks the world's top 1000 research universities annually based on transparent methodology and objective third-party data. In the ARWU’s 2021 rankings by subject, the agency recognised us as being among the top 100 performers globally in no fewer than 16 areas.

    These subjects, and their 2021 rankings, include:

    1. Electrical – Electronic Engineering (76-100)
    2. Dentistry and Oral Sciences (44)
    3. Mining and Mineral Engineering (7)
    4. Computer Science and Engineering (48)
    5. Instruments Science Technology (51-75)
    6. Automation and Control (25)
    7. Civil Engineering (35)
    8. Water Resources (31)
    9. Agricultural Sciences (42)
    10. Earth Sciences (51-75)
    11. Mechanical Engineering (76-100)
    12. Veterinary Sciences (76-100)
    13. Energy Science and Engineering (76-100)
    14. Nursing (51-75)
    15. Nano Science and Technology (76-100)
    16. Clinical Medicine (76-100).

    Similarly, in the QS World University Rankings—another of the world’s most respected authorities— we were rated among the global top 100 in 15 different areas. These subjects, and their rankings, are:

    1. Petroleum Engineering (11)
    2. Mineral and Mining Engineering (24)
    3. Dentistry (34)
    4. Veterinary Science (49)
    5. Agriculture and Forestry (74)
    6. Pharmacy and Pharmacology (86)
    7. Accounting and Finance (92)
    8. Computer Science and Information Systems (99)
    9. Civil & Structural Engineering (51-100)
    10. Anatomy and Physiology (51-100)
    11. Nursing (51-100)
    12. Earth and Marine Sciences (51-100)
    13. Geology (51-100)
    14. Geophysics (51-100)
    15. Development Studies (51-100).
  • Australia’s most liveable city

    According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2021 Global Liveability Index, Adelaide is the world’s third most liveable city after Auckland (New Zealand) and Osaka (Japan).

  • Young Australian of the Year

    Current University of Adelaide medical student Isobel Marshall was recognised as the Young Australian of the Year for 2021. Isobel’s business, TABOO, which she co-founded at the age of just 18 in 2019, helps women around the world fight ‘period poverty’, by providing greater access to hygiene products and breaking down the stigmas associated with menstruation.

  • Largest agricultural research centre in the Southern Hemisphere

    The Waite Agricultural Research Institute was established in 1924 for the purpose of agricultural research and teaching. Based on the University of Adelaide’s Waite campus, it has grown to become the leading research, education and commercialisation precinct in Australia.

    It has the largest concentration of expertise in the Southern Hemisphere, covering plant biotechnology, cereal breeding, sustainable agriculture, wine, food, horticulture and land management. The Waite campus is home to more than 1,500 staff and students, and numerous co-located industry and government partners