Denis Oswald Jordan 1914-1982

Written by J.H. Coates.


Denis Oswald Jordan was born on 23 September 1914 at his parents' home, 22 Oakfield Road, Southgate, London N14, the second son of Walter William Jordan, an accountant, and Rosa Jordan (née Waters). He attended the local school, Michenden Grammar School, Southgate, for his secondary education. At the Grammar School, as well as acquiring an interest in science, he first became interested in music; he played the clarinet in the school orchestra and retained an interest in music throughout his life. He left school in 1933, with the economic depression in Britain at its height. His parents were in no position to pay for him to attend University full-time and scholarships were few. However, he was fortunate to obtain a position as a full-time laboratory assistant at the British Launderers' Research Association (BLRA) which was associated with the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR). This position enabled him to attend night classes at the Sir John Cass College and in 1936 to obtain a BSc degree (Special Chemistry, Physics Subsidiary) from the University of London. In the following three years Jordan continued to work in the DSIR laboratories and produced his first contribution to the literature of physical chemistry. This work, carried out in collaboration with J. Powney, was on the application of the glass electrode to the measurement of hydrogen ion concentration in alkaline solutions, and was directly related to the interests of the BLRA, since in a later publication he used the glass electrode to study the hydrolysis of soaps in aqueous solution. Another paper published at this time, in which he examines the limitations of the glass electrode in solutions containing a variety of cations, exemplifies the care and attention to detail that was later to bear fruit in his studies on the solution properties of the nucleic acids. The disciplines imposed on him by this kind of experimental physical chemistry, such as the need first to blow a fine glass bulb to make the electrode and then to calibrate it against a hydrogen electrode before carrying out the measurements of interest, engendered a permanent respect for good technique in his receptive mind.

The work carried out during 1937 and 1938 resulted in the award of an MSc degree from the University of London, and Jordan was in 1939 appointed to the position of Assistant Lecturer in Applied Chemistry at University College Nottingham, which was at that time affiliated with the University of London. His personal life also underwent a change at this time. On 30 December 1939 he married Marjory Gauge, daughter of Arthur H. Gauge, a chemist working in government laboratories in London. Marjory Gauge had also attended Michenden Grammar School, and although she had noticed the youthful clarinet player in the school orchestra, their friendship did not develop until after they had left school. Thus in 1940, Midge and Doj, as they were to become known by their friends, moved to Nottingham, where they were to spend their war-time and early post-war years.

The Nottingham years

Jordan's first years at University College Nottingham were involved with the teaching of physical chemistry, the main emphasis being in the areas of theoretical chemistry, molecular structure, reaction kinetics, the chemistry of macromolecules, and colloid and surface chemistry. Some research must have been possible as two papers were published in the area of surface chemistry, one in 1941 and one in 1942. In 1944 he was awarded the degree of PhD (London).

More importantly, it was at University College Nottingham that Jordan came into contact with Professor J. Masson Gulland, FRS, who had been interested for some years in the organic chemistry and structure of the then little-understood nucleic acids. In 1941 Gulland suggested to Doj that he should investigate the physical chemistry of the nucleic acids. This was not destined to be an easy task. The nucleic acids mainly studied by Gulland at that time were ribonucleic acids derived from yeast and these readily hydrolysed in solution owing to the unrecognised presence of ribonuclease, resulting in solutions of oligonucleotides of ill-defined composition. Jordan, with Gulland and other colleagues, set about attempting to characterise the physico-chemical behaviour of yeast ribonucleic acids, at first by using diffusion measurements and the Stokes-Einstein equation to estimate molecular weights. The results appeared to show that the molecular weights, which were of the orderof 10,000 to 20,000, depended very much on the source of the material, the samples having been obtained from different suppliers. In their paper the authors note that the various samples must have suffered varying degrees of degradation during their preparation. Despite this difficulty, electrometric titrations were carried out on these same materials by Gulland, Jordan and Fletcher, and the results indicated a consistent pattern of three primary phosphate groups and a fractional quantity of secondary phosphate groups, for every four phosphorus atoms in the sample.

The tetra-nucleotide hypothesis was very much in vogue at this time. It was widely believed that, as four different bases had been found in ribonucleic acids, each base would occur in equal molar proportion; and further, that the ribonucleic acids were polymers of individual tetra-nucleotides, each one containing all four nucleotide bases. The titration results, taken in conjunction with the molecular weights measured earlier, suggested that the yeast ribonucleic acids contained a small proportion of orthophosphate ions with three pendant groups, and were either branched chain polymers or possibly cyclic structures strung along a linear chain.

In spite of much debate among scientists involved in nucleic acid research, little progress was made until 1947, when Gulland, Jordan and Threlfall perfected a method of preparing highly polymeric deoxyribonucleic acid from calf thymus glands. Electrometric titration of this material, carried out by Gulland, Jordan and H.F.W. Taylor, showed that there was little if any secondary phosphate dissociation evident, thus confirming the suggestion of Levene, made in 1931, that deoxyribonucleic acid was a linear polymer of phosphate-linked sugar groups. Furthermore, these results showed two well-defined and reproducible hysteresis effects in the titration curve. Jordan interpreted these as a consequence of hydrogen bonding occurring in some unspecified way between the bases, resulting in anomalous pK values for the titratable hydrogens of the bases in the native deoxyribonucleic acid, which reverted to their normal values after the structure of the deoxyribonucleic acid was disrupted as a consequence of titration to high or to low pH. In 1949 Cosgrove and Jordan showed that similar titration behaviour occurred with deoxyribonucleic acid prepared from both lamb thymus and herring sperm.

These results, along with those of Erwin Chargaff – who showed that although the four nucleotide bases did not all occur in equal proportions in deoxyribonucleic acids, the adenine molar proportion always equalled the thymine and the guanine molar proportion always equalled the cytosine(1) – provided an important part of the foundation on which Watson and Crick erected their postulate of a deoxyribonucleic acid double helix structure, in 1953 (2).

It is interesting to note that one of the earliest suggestions that a helical structure might explain the then known physico-chemical properties of deoxyribonucleic acid was made at a Cold Spring Harbor Symposium in 1947 by A.W. Pollister (3). During the discussion following a talk by Gulland, in which Jordan's titration work had been described, Pollister pointed out that, histologically, large chromosomes often appeared to consist of helices within helices. He went on to surmise whether this might not signify a helical structure at a molecular level, which would not be inconsistent with the coiling of a linear unbranched polymer, such as Gulland had described, held together by evenly-spaced linkages, perhaps hydrogen bonds. He further surmised that the irreversible loss of viscosity of deoxyribonucleic acid solutions at both high and low pH observed by Creeth, Gulland and Jordan might be due to the rupture of such linkages, followed by the reformation of a more compact helix on the return to neutral pH. Gulland was not to be drawn by this speculation, other than to remark that electrophoretic and ultracentrifuge studies that were in hand might shed light on Pollister's suggestion. Whether the fruitful Jordan and Gulland co-operation would have continued, and perhaps solved the riddle of the deoxyribonucleic acid structure before the 1953 paper of Watson and Crick, we shall never know, as Gulland was tragically killed in a railway accident on 26 October 1947.

The considerable activity in nucleic acid research that had occurred in the immediate post-war period did not detract from Jordan's energies in other directions. By 1947 he had been promoted to the position of Grade I Lecturer in Physical Chemistry, had worked as Assistant Senior and then Senior Gas Adviser in the North Midland Region for the Ministry of Home Security, and had been appointed Extra-Mural Research Supervisor for the Ministry of Supply on the action of war gases on nucleic acids and related compounds. Nor was he inactive in administrative affairs within the university. In 1945 he was appointed to the Library Committee, in 1946 elected as a non-professorial member of the Senate, and in 1947 elected by the Senate to serve on the University Council.

Doj 's interest in the promotion of chemistry as a profession and as a discipline is illustrated by his service as the local representative of the London Chemical Society in Nottingham from 1941 until he left in 1953.

During the years when he lived in Nottingham, two daughters were born, Susan Margaret (born 13 March 1942) and Patricia Ann (born 28 March 1946). His war-time work for the Ministry of Home Security involved much travelling throughout Nottinghamshire and the surrounding districts, since he was required to ensure the proficiency of the local Gas Officers in gas detection and decontamination procedures. He was often away from home until late in the evening, frequently returning during air raid alerts, a source of continuing anxiety for his young wife.

In 1948, University College Nottingham was granted a Royal Charter to become the University of Nottingham and Jordan was awarded a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship to study for a year at Princeton University. The latter allowed him to widen his horizons considerably and to associate with a number of prominent chemists at a time when science was becoming revitalised after the disruption of the war years.

At Princeton, where the Professor of Physical Chemistry was Sir Hugh Taylor, Jordan was able to pursue further his interest in surface chemistry. He constructed a surface balance and carried out experiments attempting to use the rate of disappearance of amphipathic molecules from the surface, consequent upon their chemical reaction with molecules in the water below the surface film, as a means of following the rate of the reaction in the surface.

A condition of the Commonwealth Fund Fellowship was that the recipient should discover something of the United States, and Doj was thus able to travel to see the Rocky Mountains, in addition to the travelling involved in giving invited lectures at Harvard, Columbia, the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn and the Lakenau Institute of Cancer Research in Philadelphia.

On returning from the United States, he learned that an application he had made for a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to purchase a 'Spinco' analytical ultracentrifuge had been successful. This was rightly regarded by his peers as something of a coup, since the Rockefeller Foundation was known to be an agency that supported only first class researchers. The grant was substantial and was important not only in itself, but also because it demonstrated the faith of a prestigious American organisation in a young English scientist working in a provincial university, who had come to prominence other than through the orthodox 'Oxbridge' route.

In the summer of 1950 Jordan returned to the USA as a participant in a Gordon Research Conference on nucleic acids and proteins. He also visited and lectured at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole. The year 1950 also saw the publication of a translation of the book The Structure of Molecules, by the Russians Syrkin and Dyatkina, edited and revised by Jordan. The translator was Monica A. Partridge, later to become Professor of Slavonic Studies at the University of Nottingham.

In a note in 1950 Jordan pointed out that the titration and viscosimetric behaviour of deoxyribonucleic acid was similar to that observed for synthetic long chain polymers carrying charged side chains. Recognising that the contemporary understanding of the presumably simpler synthetic polyelectrolytes was deficient, he started working on the solution properties of polymethacrylic acid and other synthetic polyelectrolytes. At about this time, A.R. Mathieson, who was interested in vinyl polymerisation initiated by Friedel-Crafts catalysts, arrived on the staff at Nottingham, and a successful collaboration ensued that continued until Jordan's departure for Australia in 1954.

Now in his late thirties, having been awarded a DSc from the University of London in 1952, and recognised in Britain and overseas as a bright and energetic contributor to the understanding of the physical chemistry of nucleic acids, Doj felt that he deserved a professorship. He applied for the newly-created chair of Inorganic and Physical Chemistry at Adelaide, and although there were candidates from the antipodes as well as from the UK, he was successful.

Perhaps one of the reasons for his selection was his manifest energy and versatility. At Nottingham he had almost single-handedly carried on the teaching of physical chemistry during the war, and for a time after the retirement of Professor E.B.R. Prideaux in 1946, he had carried much of the inorganic teaching as well. He had also been responsible for the setting up of new teaching and research laboratories in the late '40s. This experience, together with his good research record, would surely have recommended him to the Adelaide appointment committee, which was searching for someone to set up a new, separate Department of Inorganic and Physical Chemistry.

In the late autumn of 1953 Doj announced to his assembled research students that he had been appointed to a chair and after a short pause added 'in Adelaide, South Australia'. The appointment caused no surprise but its location was quite unexpected; indeed some, not Test cricket enthusiasts, had no idea where Adelaide was!

The year 1953 was seminal for nucleic acid chemistry, since on 5 April, Nature carried the now famous article by Watson and Crick in which a model for the three-dimensional structure of deoxyribonucleic acid was proposed. Watson in his book The Double Helix (4) mentions that it was re-reading the papers by Gulland and Jordan on the acid and base titrations of deoxyribonucleic acid that made him finally appreciate that a large fraction, possibly all, of the bases formed hydrogen bonds to other bases. Even more importantly, he goes on to note, Gulland and Jordan had shown that the hydrogen bonds were present at very low concentrations of the deoxyribonucleic acid, indicating that they were probably linking bases of the same molecule. The result of the cerebrations of Watson and Crick, based on the experimental and theoretical work of many others, is now familiar to every student of biology.

The Adelaide years

Doj and his family arrived in Adelaide by sea in March 1954, to find a city much as they had expected. It was not perhaps quite as glamorous as suggested by the promotional colour film that the enterprising and sometimes controversial Adelaide Vice-Chancellor, A.P. Rowe, made available to his new recruits through South Australia House in London. But the abundant sunshine and plentiful fresh food were in stark contrast to winter in the post-war North Midlands of England. Once again Jordan was to set about building up a department and a research school from a meagre base. One novice postgraduate student, myself, preceded him from England by a few weeks, but the rest of his group remained at Nottingham, completing their projects under the supervision of Alex Mathieson.

The equipment that Doj had accumulated over a number of years with the aid of grants from the British Empire Cancer Campaign, Imperial Chemical Industries, the Royal Society and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, remained at Nottingham. The ultracentrifuge, however, was packed into its huge crate, slung out of a second floor window of the Portland Building at Nottingham and shipped to Port Adelaide, where it languished in a bond store for months. In those days of imperial tariff preference, an American instrument, albeit second-hand, imported at no cost to Australia, was deemed machina non grata, unless duty was paid. Eventually commonsense prevailed and the analytical ultracentrifuge, the first in Australia with the exception of a homemade machine at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (known as the 'Holden Special' after its constructor, a Mr Holden), was installed in the Johnson Laboratories.

Chemistry as a university discipline had commenced in Adelaide with the appointment of E.H. Rennie to the Angas chair in 1885. Rennie held the post for 42 years until his death in 1927. He was succeeded by A. Killen Macbeth, an organic chemist, who was in the penultimate year before his retirement when Jordan was appointed in 1954. Prior to Jordan's appointment, physical chemistry had been in the charge of a Reader, S.W. Pennycuick, who had retired in 1953, while inorganic chemistry was in the charge of B.O. West, a Lecturer who was later appointed professor of inorganic chemistry at Monash. The senior non-professorial organic chemist was a Reader, G.M. Badger, a South Australian who had returned to Adelaide after working with Professor Alexander Todd in Britain and who was leading a thriving research group based on the top floor of the Darling Building, remote from the other chemists in the Johnson Laboratories. Badger had met Jordan briefly at an IUPAC conference held in Stockholm in 1953 and had been favourably impressed with him both as a chemist and as a person. That the two men regarded each other with mutual respect was fortunate, since they were later jointly to preside over a remarkable period of growth and consolidation of chemistry in the University of Adelaide.

The accommodation for teaching and research in inorganic and physical chemistry in Adelaide in 1954 consisted of a well-constructed building, the Johnson Laboratories, completed in 1933 but by now in need of internal refurbishing. Such equipment as there was, was mainly pre-war and not really of the standard needed in the '50s. The human resources were very small, comprising, in addition to West, J.R. Urwin (Lecturer), A.L.J. Beckwith (Temporary Lecturer) and S.T. Eberhard (Part-time Lecturer). To make matters worse, West was on study leave at Cambridge during 1954.

Jordan set out with energy and enthusiasm to build up the staff and equipment for teaching and research in physical and inorganic chemistry. However, with term starting within days of his arrival in Adelaide, the immediate task was to implement new lecture courses and get practical classes under way. The latter exercise was particularly hectic, with new experimental scripts sometimes arriving in the hands of the laboratory staff on the day before the class was due to take place. Doj's earlier experience in lecturing on inorganic chemistry stood him in good stead, since he was obliged to give much of the second-year inorganic course. In addition he was supervising the work of two PhD students, Miss H.L. Northey and myself, and two Honours students, T. Kurucsev and F.E. Treloar.

In 1955 Professor Macbeth retired and the Chemistry Department was split into Organic Chemistry, with Badger as Head of Department, and Physical and Inorganic Chemistry, with Jordan as Angas Professor and Head of Department. With the return of Bruce West and the arrival of J.M. Creeth as Senior Lecturer in physical chemistry and A.M. Sargeson as Lecturer in inorganic chemistry, both teaching and research moved ahead, aided by the arrival of new equipment funded by the University. Jordan's research group consisted of Coates, Kurucsev and Treloar, working respectively in the areas of nucleic acids, polyelectrolytes and anionic polymerisation.

The successful prosecution of a university discipline in an isolated community requires that the secondary schools lay good foundations. In 1954 the chemistry syllabuses used by the Public Examinations Board of South Australia were badly in need of revision. Jordan undertook this task. He single-handedly wrote syllabuses for the Intermediate, Leaving and Leaving Honours examinations in chemistry, and then, as chairman of the Chemistry Subject Committee for ten years, oversaw their implementation.

The year 1960 saw the publication of The Chemistry of the Nucleic Acids, a definitive account of the chemistry and particularly the physical chemistry of the nucleic acids, and the first full-length book devoted to the topic.

Jordan's attention had now turned to the problem of the denaturation of nucleic acids, and in 1960 a series of papers with R.B. Inman was published in which the denaturation of deoxybonucleic acid, in very dilute aqueous solution in the absence of added electrolytes, was investigated by a variety of techniques. At the same time, however, he was also working on problems associated with polyelectrolyte behaviour in solution and with cationic polymerization, as evidenced by a series of papers with Kurucsev and Treloar respectvely.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, in association with a sequence of postgraduate students, and in the case of polyelectrolytes in collaboration with Tom Kurucsev, Doj continued his research in these same areas.

New topics also evolved, such as the study of the effects of tacticity on polymer solution properties, investigated with Tom Kurucsev and M.L. Martin, and anionic polymerisation of methyl methacrylate, investigated with P.E.M. Allen. The interactions of transition metal ions and of heterocyclic compounds with nucleic acids were also studied.

Although the techniques that were used changed and the nature of the chemical systems altered as time passed, the twin themes of Jordan's research persisted. He wished to understand the features that determine the stability of the deoxyribonucleic acid native structure, and to elucidate the many ways in which the solution physical chemistry of polymers is determined by their structure and stereochemistry. His early associations with the study of surface chemistry were not forgotten and a series of papers on the wetting of solid metal surfaces by liquid alkali metals was published in collaboration with J.E. Lane, stimulated initially by the then current interest in the use of liquid metals as heat transfer agents in nuclear reactors.

Financial support for these activities had come from time to time from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Nuffield Foundation and the Royal Society of London in association with the Nuffield Foundation. From 1966 to 1979 Jordan's work was supported each year by the Australian Research Grants Committee.

The size of the academic and ancilliary staff of the Department of Physical and Inorganic Chemistry expanded steadily after its inception in 1955. This was very necessary, as the numbers of undergradutes reading chemistry at Adelaide rose continually until the Flinders University of South Australia opened its doors to science students in 1966.

Jordan achieved a major ambition in 1964 when a second chair was established in the department. The first incumbent was D.R. Stranks, who arrived from the University of Melbourne with a substantial group of six research students, thus doubling the departmental research potential in inorganic chemistry almost overnight.

By 1966 the academic staff of the department numbered 18, and this number was only marginally exceeded during the remainder of Jordan's tenure of the Angas chair. Changes in tenured staff were quite rare, with some notable exceptions. J.M. Creeth, himself a postgraduate student of Jordan's, left in 1958 to take up a position at the Lister Institute in London. During his short stay in Adelaide, he supervised both the Honours and the PhD work of Laurie Nichol, now Professor L.W. Nichol, FAA, probably the most distinguished graduate of the department, who held the chair of physical biochemistry at the John Curtin School of Medical Research from 1970 until 1985 before becoming Vice-Chancellor of the University of New England. Alan Sargeson left to take up a position at the Australian National University (ANU) in 1958. As Professor A.M. Sargeson, FAA, FRS, he now holds a chair of inorganic chemistry in the Research School of Chemistry at the ANU. T.N. Bell (1958-66) went to a professorship at Simon Frazer University in British Columbia. Stranks (1964-73) took up a chair in inorganic chemistry at Melbourne University, then returned to Adelaide as Vice-Chancellor in 1977. M.I. Bruce, from Bristol University, was appointed to the second chair in 1977 and was subsequently appointed to the Angas chair in 1982.

The size of the laboratory buildings was greatly increased during Doj's years as Head of the department. A new building, doubling the area of laboratory space, was erected in 1963, while in 1964 the Johnson Laboratories were completely refurbished. The new building was named the Jordan Laboratories, in Doj's honour, in 1981.

Jordan's influence on the study in Australia of polymers, both natural and synthetic, was considerable. He built up the first academic school of polymer research in the country and introduced the first undergraduate course in the subject. Former postgraduate students from the Adelaide department have established themselves as polymer chemists or polymer biochemists in universities, in CSIRO, in Institutes of Technology and in CAEs throughout Australia.

The first national conference on polymer chemistry was organised by Doj in Adelaide and led directly to the formation of the Polymer Division of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute. This was the first of the Divisions to be formed. It set an example for the remainder of the Institute, resulting in the formation of several subject Divisions, each based on a scientific community of interest. It is noteworthy that this reform predated by some ten years an equivalent reform in the Royal Society of Chemistry in the United Kingdom. Not surprisingly, Doj was the first recipient of the Polymer Medal, subsequently renamed the Jordan Medal, awarded annually by the Polymer Division for outstanding work in polymer chemistry.

Jordan was a strong supporter of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute during the whole of his career in Australia. He was chairman of the South Australian branch in 1964, chairman of the National Symposia Committee from 1964 to 1969, and chairman of the Education Committee from 1963 to 1967. He was elected vice-president and member of council in 1978 and president in 1979.

During his presidential year he represented Australia at the first Joint Scientific Meeting of the Pacific Area Chemical Societies in Hawau, where he was elected chairman of the inaugural session and chairman of the Professional Affairs Working Party. Later that year, he represented Australia at the inaugural meeting of the Federation of Asian Chemical Societies in Bangkok. His service to the Institute was recognised by the award of its most prestigious honour, the Leighton Medal, which was presented to him by the Governor-General, Sir Zelman Cowen, in November 1981.

Doj 's overseas activities in 1979 were part of a lifetime of participation in international science. During his career, he was an invited lecturer or plenary lecturer at a number of international conferences and visited the USA and both eastern and western Europe many times to lecture at universities and research institutes.

Within the university, he was prominent as chairman of a large number of permanent committees and working parties. He was dean of the Faculty of Science in 1958-59. He will be remembered by many of his colleagues as a very forthright member of the Education Committee, the senior academic committee of the university. His views, regarded by many as conservative, were always listened to with respect, particularly as he was meticulous in the preparation of his own remarks and scathing of those whom he considered less so in theirs. He was chairman of the Education Committee in 1964-65. He was elected a member of the University Council in 1971 and served on it continuously until his retirement in 1979. He served as a member of the University Finance Committee from 1969 to 1977 and was appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University for the years 1974 and 1975.

In the wider scientific scene within Australia, Doj was a member of the Council of the Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering between 1958 and 1975 and its president in 1958-59 and 1961-62. He was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 1970 and was a member of Council during 1976-79.

Jordan's contributions to science must be evaluated in the important context of the application of physico-chemical ideas and techniques to the study of nucleic acids and to the study of polymers in general. Here, his major contribution was to our understanding of the nucleic acids themselves, in particular his realisation of the importance of hydrogen bonding in maintaining the structural integrity of the molecules. His studies of the effects of denaturing conditions on the properties of nucleic acids set the scene for the discovery by others of complementary 'sticky ends', which have become crucial to the methods of gene technology. This early work would by itself have warranted world-wide scientific recognition His later studies, both experimental and theoretical, of the intercalation model for the interaction of acridine derivatives with both native and denatured nucleic acids, confirmed him as a leader in nucleic acid research.

The other major interest of his scientific career was the relationship between the chemical and stereochemical structure of polymers and their solution properties. This interest led him into studies of the effects of pH and ionic strength on the dimensions of polyelectrolytes in solution, into the study of anionic and cationic polymerisation, and into the preparation and characterization of stereoregular polyelectrolytes.

His contributions to the development of macro-molecular science in Australia, through his own work, through that of the students whom he trained, and through his efforts in fostering interest in the subject among chemists generally, are without parallel.

Community activities

In 1970 the South Australian government appointed a Committee on Environment in South Australia, with wide terms of reference to inquire into and recommend on all aspects of pollution in the State. Jordan was named as chairman.

In 1972 the committee produced a comprehensive report that covered the pollution problems of the State from north to south and from east to west, from problems with factories in the cities to problems with piggeries in the water catchment areas. The most far-reaching of its recommendations were for the setting up of a Department of Environment and Conservation under a Minister and, in addition, the setting up of an Environmental Protection Council as an on-going body to advise the Minister from outside the Public Service. Although some of the recommendations of the report, particularly those dependent on unrealised predictions of the rate of growth of the State, have been overtaken by events, and others were perhaps too idealistic for implementation, the report set standards which have helped South Australia to remain one of the noticeably more pleasant areas of the world in which to live.

Jordan was, throughout his Adelaide years, a champion of the independent private schools. He sent his daughters to the Presbyterian Girls College, Adelaide, and was also closely involved in the design of new science laboratories for the college in the 1950s. In addition, he became a member of the Council of Governors of Scotch College, Adelaide, in 1956 and served as chairman from 1961 until his death. There is no doubt that the affairs of Scotch College were one of his most abiding passions. He was instrumental in the appointment of a series of very good headmasters, he saw the need to make the school co-educational, and he was extremely active in helping the school acquire property and improve its buildings.

Whilst the governments of the day were very generous to private education, there was nevertheless a great need to raise funds in order to match government grants. Jordan was tirelessly active among the Old Boys of Scotch College, at Burns nights and other Caledonian fund-raising functions. He used to claim that in the interest of Scotch College he had consumed more haggis than most native-born Scots had ever done! Some of the friends whom he made through the Scotch Old Boys held grazing properties in the north of the State and it was through them that he came to know and love the Flinders and Gammon Ranges. Family holidays in the Flinders became a tradition that his daughters remember with pleasure.

In 1980, in recognition of Doj's services to science and to the community, he was appointed Officer of the Order of Australia. In 1981, the University of Adelaide named the Physical and Inorganic Chemistry building, which had been constructed under his supervision in 1963, the Jordan Laboratory.

Doj's elder daughter Susan followed her father's footsteps into a career in science. She holds a PhD in physiology from the University of Western Australia and is at present Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Human Biology at the West Australian Institute of Technology. His younger daughter Patricia is a registered nurse.

Doj was a family man and his recreations reflected this. He was very knowledgeable concerning the Flinders Ranges and outback South Australia generally, partly from family camping trips and partly from journeys made in connection with his work for the Environment Protection Council. His garden was regarded with awe by his friends because of its immaculate appearance and ordered elegance. It contained no unruly plants. He enjoyed listening to music at home and, in company with Midge, he was a regular concert goer. He was interested in wine and kept an excellent cellar.

The last two years of Doj's life were marred by increasing physical debility as a result of inoperable cancer. He died on 12 February 1982. Midge died a few months later.

D.O. Jordan will be remembered by undergraduate students as an excellent lecturer, by the members of his department as a tireless protagonist for the well-being of the department as he perceived it, and by the university as an able scientist with a strong conviction of the value of scholarship and academic independence.

About this memoir

This memoir was originally published in Historical Records of Australian Science, vol.6, no.2, 1985. It was written by J.H. Coates, Reader in Physical and Inorganic Chemistry; Foundation Master of Kathleen Lumley College, University of Adelaide. He first met D.O. Jordan when an undergraduate at the University of Nottingham in 1950 and came to Australia with him as a postgraduate student in 1954.


  • (1) E. Chargaff, Experientia, 6 (1950), 201.
  • (2) J.D. Watson and F.H.C. Crick, Nature, 171 (1953), 737.
  • (3) A.W. Pollister, in Cold Spring Harbour Symposia on Quantitative Biology, Volume XII (1947), 102.
  • (4) J.D. Watson, The Double Helix (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1968), 183.

© 2024 Australian Academy of Science