Two histories of the University launched

May 15 / 157

Professor Paul Gleeson, Dr Juliet Flesch and Professor Suzanne Cory at the launch of Transforming Biology
Professor Paul Gleeson, Dr Juliet Flesch and Professor Suzanne Cory at the launch of Transforming Biology

Dr Juliet Flesch has written two books, Transforming Biology, a history of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and 40 years 40 women, featuring biographies of University of Melbourne women.

A history of Melbourne’s world-renowned Biochemistry department, Transforming Biology looks at the careers, lives and achievements of its scientists, teachers, students and administrative staff: from its beginnings in 1938 up to the present, and covering the great shift which followed the discovery of the structure of DNA in the early 1950s.
Transforming Biology covers luminaries of the school such as Arthur Rothera, the second professor Victor Trikojus, who was known for discovering and encouraging talent and whose laboratory was celebrated throughout Europe and America, former head of department Francis Hird and his honours student, Nobel prize-winner Elizabeth Blackburn.
“There is no question that the Melbourne School of Biochemistry was an extremely important source of discovery for a very long time, it is a story that needed to be told and recorded,” said Dr Flesch, “almost anyone who was anyone in Biochemistry had gone through Frank Hird’s lab. The influence of the department has been significant, across disciplines and industries.”

Professor Paul Gleeson, the present Head of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology agrees, “Since the establishment of a dedicated department 75 years ago, biochemistry has played a major role in teaching students across many different disciplines.  The relevance of biochemistry and molecular biology in health, agriculture and industry is today reflected in the location of most of the department’s research activity in the multi-disciplinary Bio21 Institute.”

Dr Flesch was keen to cover the history of the people who made up the school, “It shows the dimension that we don’t usually think about when we think about scientists. It shows their commitment, passion, their support people, how everyone played their part. It’s not just about the scientific discovery and the research.”

Administrative staff members are also a focus of Transforming Biology. “For me, one of the most important chapters was about the administrative staff, and how the academics couldn’t function without them,” said Dr Flesch.

“I was pleased to see the recognition of the technical and administrative staff.  History shows the importance of a team approach between academic and administrative staff,” said Professor Gleeson.

Published to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the International Year of Women, 40 years 40 women presents biographies of University of Melbourne women who deserve to be better known

Chosen by Dr Flesch, the biographies include for the most part women not already noted in the Australian Biographical Dictionary or other major works, and whose careers were often eclipsed by their husbands’ high profile.

40 years 40 women features women from across faculties and professions, such as social scientist Kathleen Funder, educator Gwenyth Dow, and physicist Jean Laby.

Transforming Biology is available through MUP at

40 years 40 women is available from the Co-op Bookshop and Readings in Carlton.

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