Retiree's Lunch Update April 2022

Written by  Dr Richard Thwaites, FRACI CChem

Published 20 May 2022

Guest Speaker: Dave Winkler

Professor David Winkler entertained retirees at the most recent virtual Retirees’ Lunch with an erudite description of his remarkable career, entitled “Mentors, Serendipity and Taking Risks”.   Many in the audience had worked with Dave at some stage in their own careers and knew some of the mentors he mentioned, but few of us had as many or such a diversity of mentors over our own careers.  What struck all of us was the remarkable variety of scientific endeavours Dave had pursued, from identifying small molecules in outer space to computational chemistry and using AI in connection with the discovery of drugs, agrochemicals, nanomaterials and biomaterials, with lots of diversions in between.

Dave spoke of the need to change career direction every decade or so, to keep the mind fresh and stimulated, and of the various decision points in his career.

He started out with a BSc in chemistry and chemical engineering from Monash, followed by a BAppSc in physics from RMIT.  Then while working for the Department of Mines, Dave embarked on a PhD at Monash in chemical physics, studying small molecules in space.  He declined the opportunity to pursue a career in naval research at Rushcutters Bay in Sydney, and became a tutor at the Victoria College of Pharmacy, funded by the NHMRC instead, and then went on to become a research scientist at DSTO in Adelaide before taking up positions of increasing seniority at CSIRO.  Taking early retirement from CSIRO, he took up a professorial role in biochemistry and chemistry at La Trobe University, in the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS) and today combines that role with an adjunct professorship at MIPS and a visiting professor in pharmacy at the University of Nottingham in the UK.

Dave spoke of the many mentors who had influenced his career:  he was fortunate enough to have Nobel Prize-winner, Harry Kroto, as one, and the important thing about Harry, Dave said, was his persistence in trying to work out the composition of a black sludge which most people would have thrown away:  serendipity at work resulting in the discovery of Buckyballs (or Buckminsterfullerene). 

Other mentors who had influenced Dave included Peter Andrews, Graham Richards, Tom Spurling, Cathy Foley and Ron Brown.  Dave was particularly influenced by Graham Richards at Oxford for his ability to mix academia with industry.

Dave spoke about his own various interactions with industry, particularly while at CSIRO, resulting in the development of several useful compounds and potential drugs, and giving rise to a number of spin-off companies like Boron Molecular and Starpharma.  He also spoke about the evolution of FACS (the Federation of Asian Chemical Societies) which flourished under his Presidency.

Dave has also held senior influential positions with the RACI Board, and in 2021 was recognised with the award of a Distinguished Fellowship.  More about Dave’s illustrious career can be found in the March-May 2022 edition of “Chemistry in Australia”.

We rather unusually had a few technical problems with Zoom, and although some people possibly thought about giving up, most of us persisted with logging off and logging on, and benefitted from sitting through the technical difficulties.  We are also very grateful to Dave for making his presentation while suffering from COVID.

The June Retirees’ meeting will be via Zoom on Tuesday, June 7th at 12 noon.  July's meeting, for those retirees who are attending the Congress in Brisbane, will be held there and hope to catch up with interstate retirees in person too.




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