Skip to main content

Albert Lloyd George Rees [1916-1989]

Biography

Albert Lloyd George Rees was born on 15 January 1916 the youngest of six children of Edith Mary Target, a seamstress and the Reverend George Percival Rees. The selection of Lloyd George as two of his Christian names reflects his father’s Welsh origins and his admiration for the great Welsh statesman and his outstanding leadership as Prime Minister of Britain during the First World War.

The paternal forebears of Lloyd Rees were Welsh. His great-grandfather, Thomas Rees, born in Carmarthen, South Wales, in 1805, and his father, George Percival Rees, born in New Zealand in 1872, were nonconformist ministers. The latter gave sixty years of distinguished service to Baptist churches throughout Australia, including twenty years as General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Victoria and a term as President General of the Baptist Church of Australia.

School and University Career

Lloyd Rees entered Carey Baptist Grammar School, at Kew, Victoria, in 1924. The school had opened one year previously and his father had been involved in its planning and construction. Lloyd had a distinguished career at Carey, where he excelled as a scholar and as a sportsman (cricket, football, athletics). In his final year, 1933, he was Dux (for the second successive year), Head Prefect, Captain of School, and winner of prizes in English, Mathematics and Science. He often expressed his gratitude for the teaching he received at Carey. Arthur Sandell, a contemporary of Rees and a fellow prefect, has stated that various teachers, including Lloyd’s brother Rex Rees, (10 years his senior), had a great influence on Lloyd’s development as a scholar. However, it was his chemistry and physics master, Mark Stump, who deserves most credit for fostering in Rees an interest in science, and a special love of physics and chemistry. It also seems certain that Lloyd owed much to his father, who was a strict disciplinarian and instilled the work ethic in all his children. According to Lloyd’s widow, Marion, it was also his father who developed his son’s love and correct usage of the English language.

Towards the end of his schooldays Lloyd decided that he wanted to be a scientist. JL Farrant has related how in his last year at school Rees, in his school uniform and with his cap in his pocket, walked into the Head Office of CSIR at 314 Albert Street, East Melbourne, and told the receptionist that he wanted to see Dr David Rivett, at that time Chief Executive Officer of CSIR and a former Professor of Chemistry at the University of Melbourne. Rivett said send him up

Rees gained his BSc with distinction in 1936 and in the following year enrolled as a full-time postgraduate student in chemistry. His supervisor for the MSc degree was Dr NS (later Sir Noel) Bayliss who early in 1938 took up his appointment as Professor of Chemistry at the University of Western Australia. Rees remained in Melbourne and began studying the effects of foreign gases on the spectrum of bromine. Throughout these investigations he was in frequent correspondence with Bayliss. At the end of 1938, he graduated MSc and shared the Dixson and Professor Kernot Research Scholarships in Final Honours Chemistry.

He obtained a Beit Scientific Research Fellowship for postgraduate research at Imperial College, London. Before leaving for London and at the request of Noel Bayliss, he spent two terms in 1939, lecturing in organic chemistry at the University of Western Australia. In Perth, Rees’ research flourished and he greatly enjoyed having day-to-day contact with Bayliss. In retrospect at least he also enjoyed his lecturing duties, and in later years often recalled with pleasure his struggles to keep half a page ahead of his students

Wartime activities 1939-44

Rees left Perth at the end of second term, hoping to arrive at Imperial College in London for the autumn term of 1939. However, when he was midway across the Indian Ocean the Second World War broke out; the ship was diverted around the Cape of Good Hope and took an erratic journey under blackout conditions before arriving in London. His wartime activities were as follows:

At Imperial College

There the entire research group were engaged in studies of potential war gases which it was considered the enemy might use. By special arrangement the University made it possible for secret work to be used towards a PhD degree, which Rees was awarded in 1941. The projects with which he was chiefly concerned involved the small-scale production of arsine (AsH3) and the measurement of the physico-chemical properties of this and other substances of possible use as war gases.

Rees’s research activities before leaving Australia were all in the field of optical spectroscopy, though he was becoming interested in other physical techniques, such as electron diffraction, for which no facilities existed in Australia at that time. At Imperial College, he had the opportunity of contact with Professors LC Martin and GI Finch, who had done pioneering work in England on the electron microscope and electron diffraction camera respectively. His reading on these topics resulted in the writing of several review papers at this time.

Philips Electrical Industries

Shortly after the award of his PhD Rees accepted an invitation from Philips Electrical Industries UK to be the leader of a new research and development group which it wished to set up as part of its Materials Research Laboratory at its works at Mitcham, Surrey. This appointment, at the age of twenty-five, bears testimony to the high regard in which he was held, since he had no previous experience as leader of a research group, or any great expertise in any of the scientific and technological activities in which Philips wished to be involved.

Return to Australia: establishment of the Chemical Physics Section

Shortly after Rees arrived in England, CSIR announced the creation in 1958 of a Division of Industrial Chemistry, to be located in Melbourne, and with Dr (later Sir) Ian Wark as its Chief. The first sections of the Division were Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, Minerals Utilisation, Organic Chemistry and Physical Chemistry. In December 1942, it was decided to create a Section of Chemical Physics, devoted to the application of physical techniques to chemical problems. Rees was kept informed of these developments, was invited to apply for, and was subsequently appointed to, the position of leader of the new Section which in the first place was to be engaged in:

  • studies with the electron microscope and electron diffraction camera
  • spectroscopic analysis
  • thermodynamic studies.

The functions of the new Section were described thus by Wark in 1945:

This Section will have two main functions the first being to apply modern physical methods in the solution of chemical problems arising in other Sections of the Division’s activities, the second being to conduct independent research. It is intended that extra-mural work will be undertaken by the service side of the Section. Techniques which will be established in the near future are electron microscopy and diffraction, X-ray diffraction and spectroscopy – including mass spectroscopy and infra-red spectroscopy. The introduction of some of these techniques for the first time in Australia should be of service to both primary and secondary industry.

Rees was indeed fortunate in being appointed to the Division of Industrial Chemistry, with Wark as Chief. Wark’s philosophy of research, like that of his mentor, Rivett, was that selection of staff was of paramount importance and that top-quality scientific staff could be left without interference to tackle the problems for which they were appointed. As a result, Rees was given a great measure of freedom in the choice of research topics for his future Section and in the selection of staff and equipment. A chemist by training and a physicist by inclination and adoption

The development of Chemical Physics in CSIRO

Details of the role played by Rees in the development of the Chemical Physics Section and Division are provided in the biographical memoir written by Alan Walsh and John Willis (available by following the link in the Source details below). He early envisaged that the major areas of the Section’s research would be protein structure investigations, chemico-physical studies of the solid state, the determination of molecular structure and energetics, and the development of new and improved chemico-physical techniques. Since the nature of the work in these subjects required the use of sophisticated instruments, one of his first actions was to establish an instrument workshop under the supervision of a professional engineer. The workshop played a vital role in almost all the activities of Chemical Physics and more than justified the foresight of Rees in establishing it.

Apart from a number of minor investigations and those that formed part of his wartime work, Rees’s scientific research falls into four well-defined categories:

  • spectroscopy
  • electron microscopy
  • electron diffraction
  • physics and chemistry of the defect solid state.

He had a total of 77 publications including his book Chemistry of the Defect Solid State, London: Methuen, 1954; Russian translation, Moscow, 1956.

The creation of the Division of Chemical Physics with himself as Chief was a notable achievement for Rees and his research team. The Executive of CSIRO had recognised both the importance of the subject of chemical physics and also the achievements of his Section bearing that name.

Rees and the scientific instrument industry

Rees had long cherished the idea that Australia should have its own scientific instrument industry, and the difficulties experienced in equipping the Section with satisfactory instruments in the immediate post-war years served to reinforce this feeling.

At the beginning of 1952 Rees prepared a formal document for the Chief Executive Officer of CSIRO, FWG White, entitled ‘The establishment of a scientific instrument industry in Australia’. He outlined the advantages to Australia of such a development and examined its economic and technological feasibility. He envisaged several possible structures for an industry of this kind and recommended that it should be sponsored by the Government but financed by private capital, and relying initially at least on government scientific institutions for technical advice and guidelines

The development of various new types of instrument in the Section during the first few years of its existence, including a ‘double-pass’ infra-red spectrometer that was patented and licensed to an overseas manufacturer (see below), encouraged Rees in his ambition to have such new instruments made commercially in Australia. From this time onwards he campaigned continually on this theme and discussed it with members of the CSIRO Executive, with leaders of industry, with banks, with potential manufacturers and with prospective customers. Largely as a result of his enthusiasm and persistence, manufacture of several small instruments developed in the Section, such as an ultra-microtome and a stabilised power supply, was undertaken by Australian firms by the mid-1950s.

The invention of the atomic absorption spectrometer in the Section and its development as a means of chemical analysis caused Rees to decide that the Section should have its own optical workshop to support its increasing research effort related to optical and spectroscopic instruments. DA Davies, the head of the Instrument Laboratory, had been attempting to produce diffraction gratings for use in spectroscopic instruments by an ingenious and apparently simple replication process proposed by Sir Thomas Merton, but in 1968 decided that to produce diffraction gratings of sufficiently high-quality for this purpose would require the construction of a conventional grating-ruling engine. Rees approved this recommendation, which was in many ways a bold step: no matter how successful the outcome, there still remained the unanswered question of the uses to which the gratings could ultimately be put. Subsequent events, however, more than justified the optimism with which he committed Chemical Physics to a formidable item of open-ended research and development.

The audacity of Rees in undertaking this immensely difficult project was remarkable. His decision to do so meant that, if successful, Australia would have the facilities to manufacture various types of spectroscopic equipment. In particular, the prospects for local manufacture of atomic absorption instruments would become immensely brighter. The subsequent successful development of the Australian spectroscopic industry is well known. Walter Slavin, a senior member of a large American scientific instrument company, has paid this tribute to Rees and his Division:

Rarely has a technical field owed so much to a single laboratory as atomic absorption spectroscopy owes to the Division of Chemical Physics of the CSIRO … where atomic absorption was conceived, nurtured, pioneered, applied, and instrumented

Right up to his retirement, Rees continued to support other major instrument developments in his Division and did his utmost to ensure that wherever possible they were commercialised by Australian firms. His contributions to the development of an Australian scientific instrument industry were recognised by the award in 1987 of the Australian Academy of Science’s first Ian William Wark Medal, established to encourage those who work at the boundaries of science and industry. His Wark Lecture, ‘Science in Bondage’, was an expression of his concern for the trend in Australia towards more short-term research directed to specific targets at the expense of longer-term fundamental studies. The scientific instrument industry itself honoured him by election to Honorary Life Membership of the Australian Scientific Industry Association.

Rees and Chemical Physics in retrospect

There is no doubt that the establishment of the Chemical Physics Section, and the part it played in the introduction of new physical techniques into Australia and the training of Australian scientists in their use, provided an invaluable stimulus to academic, governmental and industrial laboratories in the decade or more following the end of the Second World War. For this we have largely to thank the foresight of Ian Wark, the support of Sir David Rivett, and the vision, energy and persistence of Lloyd Rees.

Chemical Physics won itself an enviable international reputation in fundamental research and the value of its work has been recognised by various learned societies. Three of its members or former members (Cowley, Head and Walsh) were elected Fellows of the Royal Society of London; nine (Clarebrough, Cowley, Head, Hurley, Mathieson, Moodie, Morrison, Rees and Walsh) were elected Fellows of the Australian Academy of Science, one (Walsh) was a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences. In addition an MBE, an AM, a CBE and a knighthood have been bestowed on members of the Division of Chemical Physics for services to science.

The emphasis on long-term and fundamental work that characterised the Division meant that much of its research was not expected to be directly applicable to industry, at least in the short-term. Even with those projects that led to results of apparent industrial significance, it frequently required a long-time and much persistence on the part of the scientists concerned before the work was effectively taken up by industry. Instruments and techniques developed during Rees’s time as Section head and Chief of Division, some of which were commercial successes, include:

  • Atomic absorption spectroscopy – developed by Alan Walsh.
  • Cathodic sputtering technique – developed by Alan Walsh to enable solid analytical samples to be atomised without the need for prior dissolution; later proved of immense value in fundamental studies of radiation processes in atoms.
  • Contemporary form of convergent-beam diffraction, a development shared by P Goodman of Chemical Physics and G Lehmpfuhl of the Fritz-Haber-Institut, Berlin. This is now one of the most powerful of all the electron diffraction techniques and finds wide application in the precise determination of symmetry and in structure analysis.
  • Diffraction gratings – for use as dispersing elements in spectroscopic instruments; required for the manufacture of complete atomic absorption instruments by Techtron Pty Ltd; the masters were ruled on CSIRO engines constructed in the 1950s and 1960s and the replicas produced by a process developed by DA Davies. In the 1970s, methods for the production of diffraction gratings by holography were developed with the master gratings being produced at CSIRO and replicated for commercial use by Varian Techtron Pty Ltd.
  • Electron micro-diffraction camera – designed and constructed in the 1940s.
  • Electron multiplier – new type with easily replaceable electron-emitting surfaces thus avoiding the need to dispose of the entire instrument when the efficiency of these surfaces had deteriorated through use; developed by DL Swingler; licensed in 1981 to Sydney firm ETP Pty Ltd.
  • Far-infrared spectrometer – the instrument employed a zone plate as the dispersing element.
  • Multiple (double-pass) monochromater – a device that improved the resolution of commercial infrared spectrometers by allowing the radiation to be passed two or more times through the same optical system; developed by Alan Walsh and patented in the 1950s; licensed to Perkin-Elmer in 1953; royalties obtained during the life of the patents were US$77 000.
  • Nephelometer – a versatile optical fibre instrument for measuring turbidity in liquids; invented by Clive Coogan and manufactured in Australia by Selby Scientific and Medical Company. It was placed on the market in 1986.
  • Periodic excitation phosphorometer – developed in the 1940s.
  • Polarising interferometer – for the servo control of the ruling engines used to make diffraction gratings for atomic absorption spectrometers; developed by DA Davies at Chemical Physics in the 1960s.
  • Salinity meter – manufactured by Techtron Pty Ltd, Melbourne.
  • STAC-PAC – a compact modular dc power supply unit that could be stacked one upon the other to provide an extended range of either current or voltage; developed by Billington at Chemical Physics in 1954; manufactured by Klarion Electronics and later by The Fairey Aviation Company of Australasia Pty Ltd.
  • Ultramicrotome – for cutting very thin sections of tissue for electron microscopy; developed by Chemical Physics; manufactured and marketed by The Fairey Aviation Company of Australasia Pty Ltd.
  • Vacuum gauge – a novel instrument developed in the mid 1940s and early 1950s.
  • Vacuum pump (oil-free) – for use where contamination of the system with residual oil vapour must be avoided (e.g. electron microscopes, semiconducting and coatings industries). Developed by JL Farrant; manufactured by Varian Associates.
  • Vacuum ultraviolet spectrograph – developed in the 1940s.
  • X-ray camera adaptor for high temperature use – developed in the mid 1940s and early 1950s.

Post-retirement activities

Shortly after retiring from the CSIRO in May 1978, Rees undertook two onerous jobs. He served for three years as Chairman of an independent external review of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, and also as a member of a committee appointed by the Victorian Government to enquire into the fluoridation of Victorian water supplies. His work for tertiary educational institutions in Victoria continued until 1986.

When it was learned that Rees was terminally ill, all who had worked in the Division of Chemical Physics were greatly saddened. This was not simply the mourning for a man who had been a distinguished leader: it was more the general realisation that they were losing a staunch and true friend. There was a general feeling that they should send him a message of thanks before he died, and it was decided to place a brass plaque below the painting of him in the Lloyd Rees Library. The plaque reads:

DR A.L.G. REES

Dr Lloyd Rees was appointed by CSIR in 1944 to create a Chemical Physics Section. This developed into the CSIRO Division of Chemical Physics, with Rees as Chief, a position he held until his retirement in 1978.

Rees was presented with a miniature and was most appreciative of the gesture.

Honours and awards

Throughout his career, Rees was honoured by academic institutions, learned societies and professional bodies. Particularly fitting, perhaps, was the award of the Imperial honour, Commander of the British Empire, on his retirement from CSIRO, ‘for service to the science of chemical physics’. At this point he could look back over 34 years during which chemical physics in CSIRO had grown from a single worker, himself, to a Division of more than 100 people under his leadership as Chief.

The continuing recognition of the value of his work is evidenced by the honours which were accorded to him after his retirement such as the naming of the Lloyd Rees Library, his election to Life Membership of the Australian Scientific Industry Association, and his selection as the first Ian William Wark Medallist and Lecturer. Since his death, his many colleagues and friends have made it possible for the Australian Academy of Science to institute a biennial ALG Rees Memorial Lecture, the first of which was held in September 1991. It was particularly fitting that the first Lecturer was Professor JM Cowley, FAA, FRS, who was one of the first appointees in the Chemical Physics Section, and who worked closely with Rees in the early years on electron diffraction before leaving in 1961 to pursue a distinguished academic career in Australia and then in the USA Cowley’s lecture, entitled ‘The Lloyd Rees Legacy’, was a glowing tribute to Rees’s leadership.

Fellowships

1954

Foundation Fellow, Australian Academy of Science

1951

Fellow, Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science

1948

Fellow, Australian Chemical Institute

Awards

1987

Ian William Wark Medallist and Lecturer, Australian Academy of Science

1978

Commander of the British Empire (CBE)

1977

DApplSc (honoris causa), Victoria Institute of Colleges

1970

Leighton Memorial Medal, Royal Australian Chemical Institute

1970

Einstein Memorial Lecturer, Australian Institute of Physics

1952

Liversidge Lecturer, Royal Society of New South Wales

1951

HG Smith Medal, Royal Australian Chemical Institute

1948

DSc, University of Melbourne

1946

Rennie Medal, Australian Chemical Institute

Committees and associations

1989

Honorary Life Member, Australian Scientific Industry Association

1981 – 89

Fellow of the Faculty of Science, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria

1979 – 80

Chairman, Independent External Review of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation

1969 – 71

President, International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry

1967 – 69

President, Royal Australian Chemical Institute

1964 – 73

Chairman, Australian Academy of Science International Relations Committee

1964 – 68

Secretary of Physical Sciences, Australian Academy of Science

1963

President, Section B (Chemistry) of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science

1957 – 65

Chairman, Australian Academy of Science National Committee for Pure and Applied Chemistry

1957 – 58

President, Royal Australian Chemical Institute, Victorian branch

Positions held

1961 – 70

Chairman, CSIRO Chemical Research Laboratories

1958 – 78

Foundation Chief, CSIRO Division of Chemical Physics

1954 – 58

Assistant Chief, CSIRO Division of Industrial Chemistry

1944 – 58

Head of the Chemical Physics Section at the CSIR/CSIRO Division of Industrial Chemistry

1941 – 44

Research Chemist with Philips Electrical Industries, UK

1940 – 44

Beit Scientific Research Fellow and part-time lecturer in Advanced Inorganic Chemistry at Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London

1940 – 44

Gas Identification Officer for the Cities of Westminster and Wandsworth, UK

1939

Lecturer in Organic Chemistry, University of Western Australia

Source

Find out more
  • Willis JB, 1978, ‘The Chemists of Australia: Dr A.L.G. Rees’, Chemistry in Australia, 45: 157-159.
  • Willis JB, 1988, ‘The CSIRO Division of Chemical Physics, 1944-86′, Historical Records of Australian Science, 7: 153-177.