John Edwin Rogers Falk 1917-1970

Written by M.R. Lemberg and O.H. Frankel.

Introduction

John Edwin Rogers Falk was born on 22 August 1917 at Cessnock, NSW. His father, H.J. Falk, was a pharmaceutical chemist in Sydney.

John was educated at the North Sydney Boys High School in Sydney. He was trained as a pharmaceutical chemist at the University of Sydney. Earnings as a pharmacist and musician – John was an accomplished flautist of professional standing – enabled him to re-enter Sydney University and to get his BSc in 1942, followed in 1947 by an MSc on the basis of a thesis with A. Albert on cytochrome c reactions with adrenaline and acridine compounds. After his graduation John held a scholarship at Sydney University with V.M. Trikojus. This was a wartime research begun by the Drug Sub-committee of the Association of Scientific Workers to provide essential drugs which had become unavailable in Australia. This work consisted of the ad hoc emergency preparation of some anti-dysentery drugs which, together with the development of anti-malarial drugs and insect repellants of the phthalate ester class, were important in the New Guinea campaign. The contribution which this group made to the success of this campaign has never received the recognition it deserved.

From 1944-1945 Falk was Chief Chemist of the Bayer Company of Sydney, responsible for process research. His discovery of a process for the large scale synthesis of 5-amino-acridine was patented and is still in general use. In 1946-47 Falk worked under a Wellcome Research Fellowship with A. Albert beginning investigations on the interaction of acridine compounds with enzyme systems with particular reference to the mode of action of anti-malarial agents.

When Albert left for London, Falk obtained a National Health and Medical Research Council grant enabling him to work with M.R. Lemberg at the Institute of Medical Research at the Royal North Shore Hospital of Sydney. He was also a part-time lecturer in Agricultural Biochemistry at Sydney University.

The investigations carried out at the Institute of Medical Research from 1947-1949 on porphyrins and the prosthetic group of cytochrome oxidase determined the direction of much of his later scientific work. He obtained a Nuffield Travelling Fellowship to work with C. Rimington at University College Hospital Medical School from 1949 to early in 1951. He obtained his PhD at the University of London in 1951. From February 1951 to November 1955 Falk became the Leader of the Nuffield Unit for Research in Pyrrole Pigment Metabolism under Rimington. His studies on analytical, in particular chromatographic methods, opened the way to important insights into the biochemical mechanisms controlling porphyrin and haem biosynthesis. He also was Honorary Lecturer in Biochemistry at University College and from October, 1953 to October, 1955, Foulerton Research Fellow of the Royal Society, London. This work in London brought Falk into contact with many English and Continental, particularly French, scholars and established his scientific reputation. Apart from the analytic and biosynthetic approach, he developed a wide knowledge of the physicochemical and ligand theory aspects of porphyrin and haem chemistry.

From November 1955 to March 1963, Falk was Head of the Biochemistry Section of the Division of Plant Industry, led by Sir Otto Frankel, and in 1963 he became his successor. However, he never gave up his interest in the field of tetrapyrroles. His book on Porphyrins and Metalloporphyrins published by Elsevier Publishing Co. in Amsterdam in 1964 has become a classic.

He was elected in 1961 to Fellowship of the Academy. From 1964-1966 he was President of the Australian Biochemical Society and in 1965 was President of Section M (Botany) of ANZAAS. In 1956 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, during 1958/9 he was the first Chairman of the ACT Branch of the Institute, while in 1964 he was awarded the Olle Prize by the New South Wales Branch. He was a member of the Biochemical and Chemical Societies, London, the Australian Society for Plant Physiology and the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science. Together with Lemberg and Morton he organized the 1959 International Symposium on Haematin Enzymes for the Academy and the International Union of Biochemistry. The arrangements made for this Conference greatly impressed overseas visitors and undoubtedly served in many ways as a model for subsequent meetings in both the USA and Japan.

In a revealing small section of his short autobiography entitled 'Peer evaluation', Falk stresses that far from being laurels upon which to rest, such honours and recognitions are of great benefit for the recipient with regard not only to strengthening his authority but even more so by including him in the 'invisible colleges' of international science and international exchange.

John Falk as a man

Some people mature fast and are at a comparatively early age sure of themselves, of their plans for their future; they ascend in a rather untroubled way and reach their aims comparatively early. Others, less extroverted and less self-secure, take a longer time for their development. The first type is slightly more frequently found among scientists, the second among artists However, both types are to be found among scientists as well as in artists, with biochemists – Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins being an example – being perhaps somewhat more frequently of the second, physicists and engineers of the first type. In any case, the final achievement is quite independent of the time scale and ease of achievement, and the more introvert types often become those of the greater depth. John Falk belonged to this type. His slow development, his artistic leanings, his vacillations between his possibilities and his rather late choice, while perhaps partially due to external and financial factors, were also parts of his make-up. This lack of self-assurance was perhaps hidden under a certain apparent blandness on occasion, but in fact in contributed a great deal to the charm of his personality. He was still young when he died, in fact even much younger than his 53 years of age.

I met John Falk first in a kind of seminary which from 1946 onwards frequently met in the Botany Department of the University under R.N. Robertson, now Sir Rutherford Robertson, the President of the Australian Academy of Science. It was, somewhat irreverently, called the 'Bible Class' and was attended among others by members of my Department. John Falk impressed me immediately as a keen young scientist of promise, so that I did not hesitate to recommend him for an NH&MRC grant to work at the Institute of Medical Research. Soon he became easily integrated with the work of myself and all my colleagues, not only in work but also in play. I remember him enjoying some of our rather adventurous bushwalks and swims in the wildest part of the Blue Mountains and in the Hawkesbury area. Even after he had gone to London on my recommendation to obtain his PhD with Rimington, close personal relationships and a feeling of scientific kinship persisted for which his 1964 book is a testimony.

He married Enid K.M. Smith in 1942 who bore him three children, two girls and a boy. Theirs was a deeply united family in which music in their home – they were all musically gifted and enjoyed playing together – was an important bond. John Falk contributed a great deal to the musical life of Canberra after he had come back to Australia. He became President of the Canberra Orchestral Society and was also participating in the establishment of a Canberra school of music.

The testimonials of Prof. C. Rimington, and Prof. Gajdos add further traits to the picture of John Falk as a person, but perhaps the most telling tribute is that of his London co-worker, Miss Amy Benson (Mrs Latter) who writes:

John Falk quickly established a friendly partnership with the five or six members of the Nuffield Unit. I know that the four years I worked with him were the happiest, hardest and most productive of my life. He was a born teacher and unlike so many academics. He was also a natural technician – he taught me my craft, made me a good technician and made me realise that it is possible to have a pride in that fact. I like to think that those years were also some of the best for him.

He loved his work, he loved people and I chiefly remember those four years for the 'puckish'-faced 'boss' who galloped into the lab at 9.00 a.m. bursting with ideas, who worked very hard but who was never too busy to be a good and very generous friend; a friend who taught me the high standards necessary for a good technician. Anything that I have accomplished since then I owe to the fact that I worked with John Falk.

John was ambitious and drove himself hard, perhaps too hard, but he nevertheless enjoyed the many great gifts of life. If he was ambitious, he certainly would not misuse other persons for his purpose. Thus he commanded the only true authority, that which is freely given in love and admiration. It is this which in fact made him the leader. And as he received loyalty of others, so he gave to those who had helped him in his development.

John Falk suffered a severe heart attack in December 1969, shortly after he had presided over the successful International Symposium on 'Autonomy and Biogenesis of Mitochondria and Chloroplasts', sponsored by the International Union of Biochemistry, the Australian Academy of Science and the National Academy of Sciences, which in itself was a recognition of the value of the work of Australian scientists in this field and particularly the Biochemistry Section of the Division of Plant Industry. After a difficult and slow recovery he appeared to rally and when he rejoined my laboratory for a brief period he had hopes and began to make plans, but I was concerned that I found him still unable to relax completely. Perhaps it was better for him to suffer the sudden death by another heart attack shortly after his return to Canberra in October, 1970. He would have found a gradual recognition of continuing or even increasing incapacitation very hard to bear. I felt greatly honoured when CSIRO authorities asked me to deliver the first John Falk Memorial Lecture for my dear departed friend and I chose a subject which, had he been permitted to live and work, would have had his closest attention.

Scientific work

The more than 50 publications of John Falk include a book Porphyrins and Metalloporphyrins, several reviews and the co-editorship of the contributions and discussions at the 1959 Canberra Symposium of the International Union of Biochemistry, published in 1961 in two volumes as Haematin Enzymes.

Broadly speaking Falk's published work deals with six, partly overlapping subjects.

Drug, organic chemistry, synthesis and pharmacological action

This work resulted in several papers, including a USA patent on q-aminoacridine. Three papers show how his interests gradually turned to biochemical problems. His 1949 papers deal with peroxidative reactions of haem compounds which were not relevant to the main reaction mechanism of cytochrome oxidase but proved to be of considerable interest by explaining deviations under abnormal conditions.

The prosthetic group of cytochrome oxidase

In 1948 and 1949, Rawlinson and Hale, working in Rimington's laboratory, had achieved a satisfactory separation of haem a as they called the prosthetic group of cytochrome oxidase, from protohaem in extracts from Corynebacterium diptheriae and ox heart muscle. When Falk joined Lemberg's department he undertook a systematic study of a variety of porphyrins and haems of known structure in order to compare them with purified porphyrin a and haem a. At the first International Congress of Biochemistry the three Australian-British groups presented together their findings on haem a, which mostly agreed. They brought more exact evidence for one formyl side chain The use of the term 'haem a' thus preceded the term 'cytohaem' later used by Warburg's co-workers.

The work on the spectroscopic comparison of haem a with other porphyrins continued after 1949 both in Sydney and London and the results were published in 1951. In attempts to purify porphyrin a Falk struck unexpected difficulties and satisfactory methods were only slowly developed in the succeeding nine years by Lemberg and his co-workers. Then, however, the rules found by Falk in his 1949-1951 work bore fruit and contributed much to the elucidation of the structure of haem a and related compounds.

Porphyrin spectra and chromatography

Falk and Willis were the first to subject a large number of purified porphyrins, porphyrin esters and haemin, partly prepared by themselves, and partly by Rimington and Lemberg, to a systematic study of their infrared spectra. Of special interest was the evidence for a hydrogen bondage of the porphyrin nitrogens.

The application of chromatographic methods to the separation and purification of porphyrins was an important methodological advance. It opened the way to a detailed analysis of the complex pattern of porphyrin excretion both normal and under pathological conditions. Even more important was that the new methods allowed a new approach to the problem of porphyrin and haem biosynthesis. Rimington's lutidine method for the separation of free porphyrins according to their number of carboxylic acids was further developed by Falk and Dresel. Uroporphyrins with 8 and coproporphyrins with 4 carboxylic acids were readily separated from each other and dicarboxylic porphyrins. The discovery of 'pseudouroporphyrin' introduced a complication through failure to recognize that it was a mixture of heptacarboxylic porphyrins. Of particular importance, however, were methods which allowed the chromatographic separation of coproporphyrin isomers I and III as esters and for uroporphyrin esters I and III although the latter method provided no ideal solution, since no separation of pure isomers was achieved. The field has been reviewed by Falk in a 1961 journal article and again in his book.

Porphyrin biosynthesis

The important work of Rimington, Falk and Dresel on the biosynthesis of porphyrins and haem compounds began in 1952 in London and continued later in Canberra with Porra and Jones and its results are contained in their publications.

The Ciba Foundation Symposium on 'Porphyrin Biosynthesis and Metabolism' in 1955 was a happy culmination of Falk's period of work in London. After his return to Australia he retained his interest in this field. Falk, Porra et al studied the effect of oxygen concentration on porphyrin biosynthesis. Free porphyrins in leguminous root nodules were studied by Falk with Appleby and Porra. Studies were also made of the conversion of coproporphyrinogen III to protoporphyrin IX.

The physicochemistry of the porphyrins and their metal complexes

One of the intrinsic difficulties in the study of many physical properties of porphyrins was their very low solubility in aqueous solutions of a pH near to those found under physiological conditions. An important step forward was their solubilization by detergents by Falk and Phillips. The monomeric dispersion allowed the quantitative study in good approximation to physiological conditions of a variety of physicochemical properties, such as ionization and stability constants: the study of Dempsey, Lowe and Phillips in 1961 was the first where quantitative data on the stability of the zinc complex of mesoporphyrin dimethylester were obtained. It also allowed studies of kinetics of formation of metalloporphyrins in enzymic and non-enzymic reactions. The effects of electronegative side chain substituents on these properties could be now studied quantitatively and correlated with spectroscopic observations. These studies were then extended to the reactions of haem compounds with ligands and their dimerization in aqueous solution. Further studies were performed on the equilibria of haem compounds with cyanide, pyridine and other bases as well as the effect of ligands on the oxidation-reduction behaviour, on the magnetochemical properties of metalloporphyring and on bond types. Falk preferred to study simple haem bases as models; however, some investigations on haemoproteins were also carried out. It was noted early that the knowledge of the chemical structure of the prosthetic group and the iron ligands was not sufficient to explain the many anomalies observed in the field of haemoproteins; notably, the large variations in the redox potential of cytochrome c. It may also be mentioned that in the mercaptoethanol compound of haem, the first example of a haem iron co-ordination with sulphur was obtained.

Falk lacked, and knew he lacked, knowledge of theoretical and quantum physics, but during his London period by discussions with London colleagues, in particular with the late Sir Ronald Nyholm he had learned sufficiently of the ligand field theory to become its best interpreter to haemoprotein biochemists, both in his contributions to the 1959 International Congress at Canberra and later in his book.

It was typical of John Falk that in spite of this theoretical interest in the field, one half of his book was devoted to Laboratory Methods which he was first to compile systematically. This has been of unique value for the further development of the field.

Finally, some later publications show his growing concern with the general responsibilities of his Department and beyond that of the whole field of the social responsibility and philosophy of science.

Professor Rimington and Gajdos were kind enough to send the following statements which contribute more than the reviewers themselves could have done. They also go beyond the evaluation of Falk's scientific contributions and add much to his evaluation as a man.

Professor Rimington states:

John Falk joined my laboratory just at the critical period when a generous grant from the Nuffield Foundation had made it possible for me to build up a Unit for the study of pyrrole pigment metabolism. In fact John was the first appointment to the Unit where he was quickly joined by Elizabeth Dresel, formerly with the late Professor Munro Fox. These two formed an ideal pair complementing each other in temperament. John was imaginative, tremendously enthusiastic – to the point of impatience at times – while Elizabeth was unhurried, cautious and soberly matter-of-fact in her approach to all problems.

The time was an exciting one. Shemin's work had indicated the gross framework of haem biosynthesis but the actual pathway was still unknown. My team was able to show clearly that it was not the porphyrins as such which were the true intermediates. Next came the demonstration that porphobilinogen, isolated from acute porphyria urine, was the key metabolite, the first pyrrolic compound formed from delta-aminolaevulinic acid and giving rise to uroporphyrinogen III and I according to conditions. Cookson and I had established the structure of porphobilinogen and offered a chemical explanation of the mechanism of uroporphyrin isomer formation. At the same time, work was going on in the Unit on the fate of these intermediates in vivo and the ready production of experimental porphyria in animals by allylisopropylacetamide.

A rapidly expanding field such as this demanded the elaboration of many specialized techniques and of some very clear thinking. John Falk contributed notably to both. His work on chromatographic separation of the uroporphyrin and coproporphyrin isomers was invaluable and he found time to contribute a review on porphyrin chromatography which was for a long time the authoritative work on the subject. He also, with Willis, mapped the infrared spectra of representative porphyrins and with Nyholm and others explored the theoretical aspects of metal co-ordination compounds of porphyrins.

Such activity and widespread interest made great demands both physically and mentally. John was indefatigable and in our opinion pushed himself too hard, even in those days. I remember an occasion, later, when he arrived by air from Australia on a whirlwind scientific visit – only to have to spend the first two days in bed. It is tragic that he was temperamentally unable to conserve his energy for the sake of future science.

In his rare moments of relaxation John Falk was a most engaging companion and his relations with fellow scientists were generally smooth. He helped me to organize the first International Conference on the porphyrins at the Ciba Foundation and his spirited participation in the discussions contributed in no small measure to the success of that meeting.

He was an excellent teacher, as two of my trusted assistants Miss A. Benson (Mrs Latter) and Miss B. Knight (Mrs Sawyer) would wholeheartedly testify. He inspired rather than enforced meticulous accuracy and scrupulous care in everything which transpired in the laboratory.

It was a sad day when he had to return to Australia but we all knew that he would bring to his new post the same wholehearted devotion and integrity of purpose.

Professor Gajdos says:

I have made the acquaintance of John Falk on his first trip to Paris during his London years. It was the beginning of a friendship that time made always deeper.

This London period which, if I remember well, lasted from 1949 to 1956, was surely one of the most happy and scientifically most productive ones of his professional life. It coincided with a prodigious development in the porphyrin field and his part in it was so enormous that I can only mention here his most important contributions. He worked out the reconstituted red cell hemolysate which proved to be one of the most useful biological mediums for the study of porphyrin biosynthesis. With this technique, John Falk was one of the first researchers showing that the then just discovered delta-aminolaevulinic acid is an obligatory intermediate in the biosynthetic pathway of porphyrins. Using the same method he has largely contributed to the elucidation of the biochemical conditions of the different steps of this complicated pathway. This work was highly facilitated by the paper chromatographic method he worked out for the separation of minute quantities of the various porphyrins and their isomers. But in my opinion, his greatest contribution was the discovery of the role of porphyrinogens. He has indeed shown, by a particularly precise isotopic study, that porphyrins themselves are metabolically inactive by-products formed by the oxidation of more hydrogenated precursors, the porphyrinogens. It was only by the recognition of these last compounds that the biosynthetic pathway of porphyrins became clear and really opened to enzymic studies.

Exceptionally rich as it was, the scientific activity of John Falk was only one of the many facets of his personality. He was a great musician. I shall never forget the Sunday afternoon when, in his modest apartment in London, he gave a Bach concert to me and my wife. He admired and thoroughly knew French literature and French history. One of his greatest pleasures was to make a weekend trip to Paris, where porphyrins formed only a little part of our conversations.

With the untimely death of John Falk at the age of 53, biochemistry has lost one of its best workers. I have lost one of my dearest friends.

John Falk as administrator (*)

In the 1950s the CSIRO Division of Plant Industry was developing research sections in fields basic to agricultural production – genetics, physiology, microbiology, and biochemistry – to complement the strong teams in Canberra and elsewhere which were directly concerned with agricultural processes and problems. Dr Falk was appointed in 1955 to lead and develop the Biochemistry Section. He had been very much the laboratory bench worker, but, as he said in a draft for a submission to the Arbitration Commission, 'I had gone from the world of applied science to the academic world, and back again, in CSIRO, to an applied research context. At the same time while I established myself as "pure" biochemist during my periods in medical research laboratories, by its nature medical research is in fact, "applied" research. Even when I was engaged upon the most sophisticated research in medical schools, I felt conscious all the time of the patients in bed nearby. Indeed, both at North Shore and in University College Hospital (London), my research was related in great part to the need to discover the underlying causes of certain types of anaemia, and of the group of diseases known as the porphyrias. Thus I came to CSIRO with a conditioning to do research at the best possible level with applied motives. At the time, not knowing much about CSIRO, I did not clearly appreciate how closely this attitude coincided with the philosophy of CSIRO.'

The research programme in biochemistry was developed in several directions arising from his earlier experiences. His interest in porphyrins led to the formation of a group working on photosynthesis and chloroplast biochemistry, as well as on the physicochemistry and biochemistry of porphyrins and haemoproteins. He was quick to recognise the possible significance of an observation that certain porphyrins synthesized within the section showed anti-fungal activity. He foresaw that research into the chemical control of parasites linking basic research with industrial application could be a highly appropriate activity for the Division of Plant Industry. On his initiative an agreement was concluded in 1961 with Fisons Pest Control Ltd of England and J.R. Geigy of Switzerland which continued for several years, and, with the latter firm, is still current. This agreement provided funds for research concerned with the synthesis and screening of compounds for biological activity and with studies on their mode or action. This work had industrial possibilities, and has resulted in a number of patents, though none has yet come to commercial exploitation.

During his 11 years as head, he built the Biochemistry section from a few scattered people to a group of 15-20 scientists. The section became a leading plant biochemical laboratory and Falk and his colleagues had many distinguished guest workers from overseas institutions in their laboratory. Falk was an enthusiastic leader. He devoted much effort to ensure that the section was well housed and equipped, and to create an atmosphere for work of the highest quality. He was imaginative and quick to recognize the significance of experimental observations made by his colleagues, sometimes better than they did themselves. Anyone making significant progress received enthusiastic encouragement and support; but he did not hesitate to let a colleague know when he thought that work was progressing too slowly. He encouraged and took an active part in symposia and seminars within his section and assisted his colleagues to participate in national as well as international affairs in biochemistry.

In 1963 Falk was invited by the Executive of CSIRO to become my successor as chief of the Division of Plant Industry. For several years he had been a member of the Divisional Committee which had played an increasing role in policy making and adrninistration, so that he had acquired insight into the running of the Division as a whole. However, his new responsiblity as chief made it necessary for him to acquire first-hand knowledge of the agricultural industry and to establish personal contacts with agricultural research and extension in the States, the Commonwealth and the Universities. John Falk had a remarkable ability to tackle new and difficult tasks with vigour, and his enthusiasm secured goodwill and help from others, within and beyond his Division. As a result he played a greater role in the agricultural sphere than in the guidance of what he called the laboratory sciences with which he was a good deal more at home. One may well ask why this should have been the case. There was a curious inversion between John Falk and myself with regard to our past research experience and the principal direction of our activities as chief. I had been associated with agriculture for many years; yet owing to the emphasis given to agronomic research in the preceding decade, it had been my brief to build up the basic research activities in the Division. This had been virtually completed, and Falk found it necessary to review and invigorate the programme in the, to him, much less familiar agricultural sphere.

Dr F.H.W. Morley, at the time an assistant chief of the Division, lists the following as Falk's main contributions to agricultural research within the Division:

  1. He gave strong encouragement and support to individuals or groups, provided their research was a. relevant to actually or potentially important production systems, b. of general rather than limited regional significance, c. scientifically well designed, performed and intergrated.
  2. He encouraged agricultural – and other – scientists to think about the relevance of their work to real-world problems and production systems.
  3. He greatly improved liaison with state Departments of Agriculture. About this more must be said later on.

On a more personal note L.F. Myers comments:

As might be expected, his fresh outlook often benefited individual projects, especially in the planning stage. The necessity to brief him succinctly about the objectives of a project in terms devoid of jargon was often a salutary exercise for the agronomist.

He took considerable pains to appreciate the economic as well as scientific relevance of projects. This was a personal involvement stimulated by his concern for the role of science in the community.

Falk was greatly concerned that research results should be effectively developed and applied in farming practice, and therefore he fostered close co-operation with State Departments of Agriculture. He took a strong personal interest in establishing a working partnership between Departmental and CSIRO officers. The number of co-operative projects increased greatly, and training facilities in special fields of research previously started on a modest scale in genetics were greatly extended and diversified. He also succeeded in establishing good working relations with members of the seed industry so as to encourage the acceptance of new cultivars resulting from Divisional research activities.

This strong pre-occupation with research liaison in agriculture resulted very naturally from his responsibility as the head of an agricultural research institution. But his interest in the communications of science – with industry, with administrators, with the general public – arose from his broad concern with the role of science in society. He believed that to make science intelligible to non-scientists was an important social responsibility in which science writers and scientists should be jointly involved. He felt convinced that the public, and especially the young, were receptive to good science writing, and it was therefore 'an error to overdo the writing down'. It was the responsibility of scientists 'to envisage and to state freely and publicly, implications of the results of their work...it is largely from the mass media that politicians and the people can be taught to understand science and be kept informed of new developments'.

'To make people understand' was something which concerned him greatly, and which he himself did very well. Some years before he became chief, when the Division was to be visited by the CSIRO Advisory Council, John Falk took complete charge, organized speakers, demonstrations, rehearsals, to such good effect that he set a pattern for effective, or as he might have said, professional ways of explaining research in progress.

When a group of science writers from the British Press visited Australia in 1966, Falk was chosen to give the Australian Scientists' point of view at a symposium held in the Academy; and again in 1967 he was invited to speak on 'Journalism and Science' to the Third Summer School of Professional Journalism in Canberra. It was after this summer school that he proposed a journalists' fellowship which would enable science writers to spend some time in research laboratories to gain experience of research and research workers.

About the time he became interested in the interrelations between science, technology and society, the study of which he called 'scienomics'. There were two reasons for this pre-occupation, both arising from his constant quest for principles and generalizations. First, he was convinced that since science had become the central motive power of society, its orientation in society required an intellectual infrastructure and social organization commensurate with its responsibilities. His ideas were influenced by those of the Ossowskis, by H.G. Wells, and Bernal, but, as M.R. Lemberg comments, 'John Falk characteristically differs from Bernal in that he sees that the humanities must be as deeply involved in this task as science economics and technology'.

Second, as a 'director of research' he felt the need for more objective guidance in decision making than could derive from the subjective information gathered and dispensed by one's built-in computer – a subject of occasional friendly banter between us. He wrote that the direction of research, as a skilled operation, is indeed still in its infancy. Only last year appeared the first serious study...designed to provide at least a semi-quantitative approach to the quality evaluation of scientists. It was fortunate that in his human relations, inside and beyond his own institution, the semi-quantitative approach was not discernible. He was a most approachable chief and a warm-hearted and generous colleague. His diverse interests and talents made him many friends. Shared interests in science, music and literature brought about a deep friendship with Professor Laurens Baas Becking. As a result of the understanding between them, Falk actively encouraged and supported Baas Becking's pioneering studies on the geochemical activities of living organisms. Following Baas Becking's death, Falk's concern that these studies be continued was, in large measure, responsible for the establishment, in 1965, of the Baas Becking Geobiological Laboratory as a joint venture between CSIRO, the Bureau of Mineral Resources and the Australian Mineral Industries Research Organization.

Lemberg has written of John Falk as a man, and of his impact on others, especially in his years before he came to Canberra. Let me conclude with some impressions he gave to some of us in his Division. He was always active, his mind working whatever was being done or said. He read, thought and talked quickly; he liked to 'talk shorthand' with those who understood and practised it. He read a good deal – science, and not only his own; 'scienomics'; economics and social sciences in general; and of course a good deal of general literature, and he integrated and used his reading perceptively and imaginatively. He spoke and, as he said, 'thought' impeccable French. He was an excellent craftsman, though his taste in the visual arts and crafts was often not impeccable. He was, as M.R.L. points out, a very fine musician. He had a prodigious work capacity and drove himself to its limits. fic basis for consciousness. Cognitive Studies 5, 95-109.

About this memoir

This memoir was originally published in Records of the Australian Academy of Science, vol.2, no.3, 1972. It was written by:

  • Max Rudolf Lemberg, DPhil, FRS, Director of Biochemical Studies and Assistant Director, Institute of Medical Research, The Royal North Shore Hospital, Crows Nest, NSW and Emeritus Professor of Heidelberg University. Foundation Fellow of the Academy; Councillor, 1956-58; and Vice-President, 1957-58.
  • (*)Sir Otto Frankel, Kt, DSc, FRS, Senior Research Fellow, Division of Plant Industry CSIRO. Frankel is the author of the second part of the obituary dealing with Falk as an Administrator.

© 2018 Australian Academy of Science

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