Wizards of Oz celebrates science heroes

2 photos of Lord Howard Florey and Sir Mark Oliphant side by side.

A new book, chronicling the remarkable achievements of childhood friends and University of Adelaide alumni, Sir Mark Oliphant and Lord Howard Florey, is being launched at Elder Hall.

Brett Mason’s new book Wizards of Oz tells the story of how physicist Mark Oliphant and medical researcher Howard Florey initiated the three most significant scientific and industrial projects of the war; manufacturing penicillin, developing microwave radar, and building the atomic bomb.

The combination of these projects gave the Allies the edge and ultimate victory over Germany and Japan, making Oliphant and Florey the two most consequential Australians of the Second World War, and perhaps of all time.

Oliphant and Florey’s respective journeys in science and medicine began at the University of Adelaide, igniting their passion for education and research and setting them up for their professional accomplishments.

More than just a story of scientific discovery, Wizards of Oz tells a remarkable tale of secret missions, international intrigue, and triumph against all odds.

The book will be launched by Her Excellency, the Honourable Frances Adamson AC, the Governor of South Australia.

When: Wednesday 12 October, 5-7pm.
Elder Hall, North Terrace campus, Adelaide.
Cost: Free of charge, but registrations are required.
Tickets: Eventbrite - search ‘wizards’ https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/403743466577


About Sir Mark Oliphant:

Sir Mark Oliphant completed a Bachelor of Science in 1921 and First Class Honours in Physics in 1922 at the University of Adelaide. He continued to work in the Physics Department, completing further research and working as a laboratory assistant.

Sir Oliphant’s discovery of Helium 3 and Tritium contributed to the atom first being split in 1932 at the University of Cambridge. He also discovered that heavy hydrogen nuclei could be made to react with each other – the fusion reaction which is the basis for a hydrogen bomb.

During the 1930s at the University of Birmingham, he and his team developed short-length radar and the resonant-cavity magnetron, the basis for portable radar in aircraft, one of the key scientific advances in World War II, which was used for the detection of German submarines.

During World War II, he strongly promoted the use of the atomic bomb to the United States government. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Manhattan Project.

In 1950 he returned to Australia as first Director of the Research School of Physical Sciences at the new Australian National University.

Sir Oliphant founded the Australian Academy of Science, and he was knighted in 1959, and awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia in 1977.

About Lord Howard Florey:

Lord Howard Florey completed a medicine degree at the University of Adelaide in 1921.

He then studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, where he received a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts, later receiving a PhD at Cambridge University.

After conducting research at Oxford University, he won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945, sharing the accolade with Sir Ernst Boris Chain and Sir Alexander Fleming, for their roles in the making of penicillin. While Sir Fleming first observed the antibiotic properties of the mould that makes penicillin, Sir Chain and Sir Florey developed it into a useful treatment, with Sir Florey conducting the first ever clinical trials.

With government assistance, sufficient quantities of penicillin were made to treat wounds during World War II.

In 1958, Sir Florey opened the John Curtin School of Medical Research at Australian National University, and went on to become Chancellor in 1965. In the same year he was appointed a Member of the Order of Merit and was made a Lord.


About Brett Mason:

Dr Brett Mason is Chair of the Council of the National Library of Australia and Adjunct Professor in the School of Justice at the Queensland University of Technology.

He was formerly a Senator for Queensland, serving in the Ministry, before being appointed Australia's Ambassador to The Hague and Permanent Representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Dr Mason is the author of Privacy Without Principle and co-editor of Future Proofing Australia. He is a graduate of Australian National University, and has commented he "is a beneficiary of Howard Florey and Mark Oliphant's vision of a great national university".

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