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Professor Harry Messel

You all might be familiar with the Messel Lecture Theatre in the Sydney Nanoscience Hub. However, a lesser known fact is that the lecture theatre was named after Professor Harry Messel, a remarkable man who was the Head of the School of Physics for 35 years, until his retirement in 1987.


Messel was born in 1922 in Canada to Ukranian parents. He studied in multiple universities including the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, Ireland, where his PhD supervisor was the Nobel Laureate Erwin Schrodinger [1].


Also known as the “champion of crocodiles”, Messel is famous for his advocacy for the conservation of endangered crocodiles and alligators in Northern Territory. He surveyed all the northern rivers in NT and conducted a research program like no other [2]. Many of the 'ancient' Jeremy articles until 1988 had a crocodile mascot, with a radar on it's head as a tribute to the Professor and his research. A hand drawn portrait of Professor Messel was also published in the very first Jeremy issue in 1986 where he was introduced as "our glorious leader".

In 1954, 2 years after Professor Messel was appointed Head of the School, he established the Nuclear Research Foundation (now the Physics Foundation), the very first foundation in the British Commonwealth at the time. He raised $130 million for the foundation and was able to set up multiple research groups that are now internationally renowned in the School of Physics. He also played an important role in the introduction of computers to Australia through the construction of SILLIAC, the second digital computer in Australia.


In the midst of this, Messel was able to work on his true passion for education by establishing the International Science School through the Physics Foundation, which brought together some of the world’s brightest minds.

Prof. Harry Messel [1]

"Professor Messel was a larger-than-life figure who has made an enormous contribution to Australian society... Many things would be quite different today without his vision, enthusiasm, determination and seemingly unlimited capacity for work," said Professor Tim Bedding [1].


Messel passed away in 2015 at the age of 93, having lived a full life as he himself would have said, “A life lived in pursuit of excellence is a life well lived" [4].

-Thanvi


References:

  1. Green, A., 2015. Emeritus Professor Harry Messel Championed Scientific Research And Education. [online] The Sydney Morning Herald. Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/national/emeritus-professor-harry-messel-championed-scientific-research-and-education-20150715-gici7q.html

  2. Billias, M., 2015. Crocs’ Greatest Friend Passes Away. [online] NT News. Available at: https://www.ntnews.com.au/news/northern-territory/scientist-who-helped-bring-the-territorys-saltwater-crocodiles-back-from-the-brink-of-extinction-professor-harry-messel-has-died-aged-93/news-story/b0e91425357f7b17bd084ff97e6a3b7c

  3. The University of Sydney. Harry Messel. [online] Available at: https://www.sydney.edu.au/science/schools/school-of-physics/harry-messel.html

  4. The University of Sydney. 2015. Passing of Emeritus Professor Harry Messel [online] Available at: http://sydney.edu.au/news/physics/1737.html?newsstoryid=15206

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