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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 9

I Introduction

II The Australian Chemical Industry

III Pharmaceuticals

IV Chemists In Other Industries

V The Dawn Of Modern Chemical Industry - High Pressure Synthesis

VI The Growth Of Synthetic Chemicals - Concentration, Rationalisation And International Links

VII Australian Industrial Chemical Research Laboratories
i Australian instrument inventions
ii Plant protection - overseas and in Australia
iii Successes in the laboratory but . . .
iv Drugs for sheep and cattle revisited Tetramisole - international success and local manufacture
v 'Promicide'* 'Grenade'* to control ticks
vi Technical service R&D
vii Industry/CSIRO/university collaboration
viii Australian entrepreneurs in modern chemistry

VIII The Plastics Industry

IX The Paint Industry

X Acknowledgements



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Australian instrument inventions

It seems that the smaller nations have made disproportionate contributions to analytical techniques; this may well have something to do with the fact that they did not have access to the development of major new products and processes which required resources exceeding small economies, hence looked for smaller scale alternatives. M. S. Tswett, a Pole, invented chromatography, J. Heyrovsky, a Czech, invented polarography, Feigl, an Austrian, pioneered microanalysis and two Australians Sir Alan Walsh and lan McWilliam, AO made two of the most important inventions in modern instrumental analysis. Their instruments are distributed throughout the world, in every chemical laboratory, and their techniques are described in every textbook of analytical chemistry, even in dictionaries of general knowledge. Walsh, working in the CSIRO, discovered in 1952 that a common problem of spectroscopy, the specific resolution of the spectra of mixtures of metals (separation of overlapping measurements) could be achieved by measuring not the emission, but the absorption of light. His work[87] is really part of knowledge-oriented science as much as part of instrument technology and its applications are mainly in metals manufacture and metallurgy, hence outside the scope of this chapter. But Walsh's atomic absorption spectroscope is also an important tool in every chemical laboratory and should be mentioned as it is one of Australia's -and the CSIRO's -inventions which have attained the ultimate objective, scientific achievement and commercial success, manufacture in Australia, overseas under licence, and exports.

The flame ionisation detector

The other instrument invention, the flame ionisation detector (FID), is part of the chemical industry; it arose from an objective set by the industry, was invented in an industrial laboratory and has served the industry in many critical applications, including the protection of the environment.

In recent years world opinion has focused on our environment -on the protection of man from the by-products of overcrowded urbanised civilisation. The world has become conscious of the value of clean air and water, pure food and healthy plants and animals. In chemical terms, attention has turned to minute quantities of substances, to impurities and to biologically active materials. The extent to which we become aware of these substances, understand their effects and eventually control them, depends entirely on our ability to measure them. We see the problem only when and because we can measure it. As is often the case with inventions, the time was ripe for it in 1956. Gas liquid chromatography, one of the most widely used branches of analytical chemistry, had been developed to the stage where complex mixtures of organic chemicals could be separated quickly, in minute quantities. This capacity was not matched however, by the sensitivity of the method of determining the quantity of the separated substances.

The gas liquid chromatograph consists of a tube or column containing a porous, solid packing material, often calcined diatomaceous earth. This material is coated with a high boiling point liquid, and a carrier gas, say nitrogen, is continuously passed through the column to a detector. The sample to be analysed is vapourised into the carrier gas which transports it through the heated column to the detector. As it travels along the column separation of the sample into its components takes place because of their different solubilities in the stationary liquid phase. During the early development the limiting factor was the method of detection of the components as they came from the column. Cooling of a hot wire which responds to the thermal conductivity of the sample and carrier gas mixture was a popular early method of detection. Unable to improve the sensitivity of this method, research workers looked for other techniques.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - CSIRO; I.C.I. Australia Ltd. Central Research Laboratories

People in Bright Sparcs - Clunies-Ross, Sir Ian; McWilliam, Ian; Walsh, Sir Alan

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 680 - 681, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher