John Falk

Scientist (Biochemist)
Inducted 28 November 2007

John Falk was born in Cessnock in 1917 and was educated at North Sydney Boys High School. He trained as a pharmaceutical chemist at the University of Sydney where he obtained his BSc, and MSc.

After his graduation in 1947, John gained a scholarship at the University of Sydney, where he was involved in research to provide essential drugs which had become unavailable in Australia, including anti-dysentery and anti-malarial drugs and insect repellents which were important in the New Guinea campaign.

This research culminated in John’s appointment as Chief Chemist of the Bayer Company in Sydney. His discovery of a process for the large scale synthesis of 5-amino-acridine was patented and is still in general use.

Following the war, John worked in many organisations in Australia and the UK, including the Institute of Medical Research at the Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney University, and the University College Hospital Medical School.  John obtained his PhD at the University of London in 1951.

From 1951 - 1955 John became the Leader of the Nuffield Unit for Research in Pyrrole Pigment Metabolism. During this time was also Honorary Lecturer in Biochemistry at University College and Foulerton Research Fellow of the Royal Society, London. This work established his scientific reputation in porphyrin and haem chemistry.

From 1955 to 1970 John’s career was based at the CSIRO where he held positions including Chief Research Officer and Head of the Division of Plant Industry. He was a Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, office bearer of several scientific organisations and author of more than 50 publications and reviews.

John was also an accomplished flautist, he was President of the Canberra Orchestral Society and participated in the establishment of a Canberra school of music. He died in 1970, his untimely death bringing a prominent scientific career to a premature end.

John Falk’s achievements include:  

  • 1956 Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (during 1958/9 he was the first Chairman of the ACT Branch of the Institute).
  • 1959 An organisersof the International Symposium on Haematin Enzymes for the Academy and the International Union of Biochemistry.
  • 1963 - 1970 Head of the CSIRO Division of Plant Industry §  Published his book on Porphyrins and Metalloporphyrins in 1964, which has become a classic amongst more than 50 other publications, reviews, etc.
  • President of the Canberra Orchestral Society and also participated in the establishment of a Canberra school of music.
  • 1961 Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (FAA).
  • 1964-1966 President of the Australian Biochemical Society §  1964 Awarded the Olle Prize by the New South Wales Branch of ANZAAS.
  • 1965 President of Section M (Botany) of ANZAAS.  
  • Member of the Biochemical and Chemical Societies (London), the Australian Society for Plant Physiology and the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science.  
  • 2007 Honoured by the CSIRO with the John Falk Memorial Lecture

For more information, visit the Encyclopedia of Australian Science website.

Plaque location
54 Vincent Street, Cessnock (garden bed)