Audio Gus Nossal speaks on being a research scientist, 2008

TLF ID R10109

This is an edited sound recording of one of Australia's best known research scientists and immunologists, Sir Gustav Nossal, outlining his views on medical research. He discusses the qualities necessary for a person to be a successful scientific researcher and talks about the nature and future of science research, suggesting that there is 'vastly, vastly more' yet to be discovered than is currently known. The recording was made in June 2008.

Educational details

Educational value
  • Sir Gustav (Gus) Nossal (1931-) has an international reputation for groundbreaking research, particularly as Director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, between 1965 and 1996. He argues in this interview that any single researcher can only ever make a 'tiny' contribution to human knowledge because there is so much that we simply don't know. Ignorance, he says, is indeed 'ever expanding', in the sense that 'every question answered begets a new question'.
  • Nossal says that while persistence and lateral thinking are not usually recognised as vital qualities for a researcher, they were what enabled his mentor, Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet (1899-1985), to win the Nobel Prize. He suggests that Burnet, who preceded him as the director of the WEHI, was 'unique among Australian scientists' in being able to put apparently disparate facts together in a new way, leading to a solution to a problem.
  • In this recording, Nossal paints a picture of medical research as an ever-expanding field, using the metaphor of a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. He cites the example of the Human Genome Project, completed in 2003, which included determining the sequences of the 3 billion chemical building blocks that make up human DNA. Nossal suggests it may take centuries to complete research into the functions of genes in human DNA, and how they all work together.
  • Nossal's own work demonstrates the expanding process of discovery he describes. His discoveries on the immune system and the rejection of transplanted organs led to the development by other researchers of major drugs such as cyclosporine. These made organ transplants more successful by suppressing the activity of T and B cells, which are produced by the body to destroy either foreign materials or cells which have become infected or diseased.
  • Burnet and Dr Peter Medawar (1915-87) of University College London won a joint Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1960 for their work on acquired immunological tolerance and on tissue grafting. The Nobel Prize is arguably the world's most prestigious award. It has been given annually since 1901 by the Nobel Foundation in Sweden for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and the promotion of peace.
  • Austrian-born Nossal has received numerous awards, including a knighthood in 1977, mainly for his work at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. In 2000, he was named Australian of the Year for helping to build the foundations of modern immunology, for his work against disease globally through the World Health Organisation, and for helping to inspire popular and political interest in science. In 2008 he was awarded the Medal of the Australian Society for Medical Research.
Year level

7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • science
  • Science/Science as a human endeavour
  • Science/Science understanding

    Other details

    • Publisher
    • Date of contribution: 20 Sep 2013
    • Organisation: Education Services Australia
    • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
    • URL:
    • Copyright holder
    • Organisation: Education Services Australia
    • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
    • URL:
    • Remarks: Copyright Education Services Australia Ltd
    • Content provider
    • Organisation: Education Services Australia
    • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
    • URL:
    • Author
    • Date of contribution: 2008
    • Name: Sir Gustav Nossal
    • Remarks: speaker
    Access profile
    • Colour independence
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    Learning resource type
    • Sound
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    • © Education Services Australia Ltd, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements.