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Robert Gordon (Bob) Winks

Biography

Robert Gordon Winks was born on 23rd January 1937 at Kingaroy, Queensland. His primary schooling was at Kingaroy State School, Maryborough Central State School, Pialba State School, Nundah State School and Buranda Boys State School. At the 1951 State scholarship examinations at the end of his primary schooling he won both the Ian Knight Memorial Award and the Stewart Bursary for scholastic achievement. His secondary schooling was at Brisbane State High School and Evening Tutorial Classes at Brisbane Technical College.

His father was a Justice of the Peace within the State Government of Queensland and served in the Clerk of Petty Sessions Office in Kingaroy and later in the Public Curators Department in Maryborough and Brisbane. He transferred to Brisbane to support the education of his family. Bob has two brothers and one sister. His mother was a housewife dedicated to supporting her family.

Family financial constraints required Bob to pursue matriculation studies at the Evening Tutorial Classes at the Brisbane Technical College. Having matriculated, he obtained employment as a technician in the Laboratory of Mobil Oil Company in Brisbane and enrolled as an evening student at the University of Queensland with a view to a career in industrial chemistry. To enable full-time studies in his final years of his Pass Degree he obtained a cadetship with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Stock. As part of that Cadetship he was placed in the Entomology Department which had a profound influence on his later studies. He obtained his Bachelor of Science from the University of Queensland in 1961.

From 1961 to 1963, he was an entomologist with Queensland Department of Agriculture and Stock (now Queensland Department of Primary Industries) and stationed in Brisbane where his duties included investigation of methods for the control of insect pests of peanuts, tomatoes, potatoes and other small crops. During this period he acted in an advisory capacity to officers responsible for inspections for insects in wheat exports to Mainland China and in the course of these duties carried out investigations into the movement of the fumigant methyl bromide through wheat in railway wagons.

From 1963 to 1967, he held the position of Entomologist within the Commonwealth Department of Primary Industry in Canberra. This position was created to support the Exports (Grain) Regulations which had just been introduced to meet Australia’s new export markets that demanded insect-free grain. Bob established standards and procedures to support the new regulations and supervised the operation of inspectors in all States exporting grain from Australia all of which brought about a dramatic improvement in Australia’s grain exports. To supplement this work, he established an insect recording system within the Department which required the identification and recording of insects collected from wheat, wheat storages (port facilities) and grain ships. In addition, he made a limited study of the insect pest problems in flour mills in several States particularly those exporting small quantities of bagged wheat; a detailed study of the storage pest problems in the rice industry including rice mills and paddy storages in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area; and a study of insect problems and control practices in food stores of the Department of Defence following which a Code of Practice was prepared for that Department. He also acted in an advisory capacity to the Federated Sheepskin Export Packers Association on insect control methods relevant to the export of hides and skins from Australia.

From 1967 to 1970, he held a senior research position in the Entomology Laboratory, Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Indooroopilly during which time he had limited responsibility for the supervision and administration of a number of entomological research projects. The major part of his work concerned a study of the inhibitory effect of the fumigant phosphine on reproduction of several stored grain insects. His work also included a limited study of acquired resistance to phosphine in two strains of Tribolium castaneum. This resistance followed selections of several strains with phosphine. A limited evaluation of response to methyl bromide was also made, primarily with a view to providing base response data for local strains of stored grain insects. Apart from the major area of study, he carried out fumigation trials in bulk peanuts; evaluated tobacco and tobacco storage sheds and evaluated the usage of phosphine in overseas shipping containers. During this period he also assisted in the preparation and presentation of a training course for overseas people on The storage and preservation of grains and seeds, sponsored under the Australian Freedom From Hunger Campaign and arranged by the Department of External Affairs.

At CSIRO

During this period he formed a close liaison with the CSIRO Division of Entomology and decided to pursue a research career with a focus on the entomological problems of stored products. He obtained a Master of Science from the University of Queensland in 1971 with his thesis ‘The Inhibitory Effect of Phosphine on Reproduction of Tribolium castaneum (Herbst)’.

In 1968 and again in 1975, he ran International training courses for personnel from the ASEAN region in the storage and preservation of stored products. In 1970, he was awarded a CSIRO Postgraduate studentship tenable at the Silwood Park Field Station of the Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London. He received a Diploma of the Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London in 1973 and a PhD from the University of London in 1974. The title of his thesis was ‘Some Aspects of the Response of Tribolium castaneum (Herbst) to Phosphine’.

In 1973, he was appointed as a Research Scientist within the newly-formed Stored Grain Research Laboratory of the CSIRO Division of Entomology to continue his studies on grain fumigants but with particular emphasis on the fumigant phosphine. Phosphine had become the principal fumigant used in Australia and in other countries around the world. In 1976 he was responsible for commissioning silos provided to Burma by the Australian Government and for the training of Burmese to operate the facilities.

In 1987, he was appointed Section Head of CSIRO Stored Grain Research Laboratory (SGRL), Division of Entomology and in 1989 successfully negotiated a further 3-year term for the Stored Grain Research Laboratory Agreement with its industry partners. In 1990, he relinquished his position of Section Head, SGRL to concentrate on the commercialisation of SIROFLO®.

Research activities

The major focus of Bob Winks research since joining CSIRO was in grain fumigants with particular emphasis on the fumigant phosphine. His lifetime’s research in this area over the next 25 years or so established him as a world authority in the field of fumigant toxicology. The key milestones were as follows:

  • 1983: Based on his research into the principles of toxicity of phosphine and his efforts to develop a fumigation method that would optimise the parameters of toxicity in Australia’s many old grain storages, Bob Winks proposed a new method of application of this phosphine which subsequently became known as SIROFLO®. Since that time he has developed this technology to the point where it became a major control method employed within the Australian grain industry.
  • 1986: Successful implementation of SIROFLO® in its first field trial.
  • 1988: First commercial installation of SIROFLO® by the Australian grain industry for the storage, that year (1988-89) of about 0.5 million tonnes of grain.
  • 1988: Development of a new, low-cost, method of fumigating and protecting grain in sealed storages. This method, called SIROFUME®, is an automatic top-up process to maintain a constant concentration of phosphine in grain.
  • 1989: Successful implementation of SIROFUME® in field trials with subsequent adoption of the technique by the NSW Grain Corporation for the entire silo complex of the Parkes sub-terminal with other sites to follow.
  • 1990: Successfully negotiated the basis and support for Associate Membership of the Laboratory as a means for improving the funding of the SGRL.
  • 1991: Successfully negotiated the sale of a data package to Commonwealth Industrial Gases to support the registration of their product Phosfume for use with SIROFLO®.
  • 1991: A successful trial of SIROFLO® at Forth Worth, Texas, USA as part of negotiations for the licensing to an American company for sales of the technology in the USA.
  • 1992: Completed a revision of the recommendations for phosphine usage in Australia.
  • 1992: Submitted a provisional patent application for a method for controlling gas flows for SIROFLO® using temperature gradients between grain and surrounding environment.
  • 1992: Submitted a provisional patent application for an aluminium phosphide traypack formulation as a source of phosphine for SIROFLO®.
  • 1993: Developed methods for implementation of SIROFLO® in unsealed horizontal storages. In many States these represent a large proportion of available grain storage capacity.
  • 1994: Designed and implemented an automatic SIROFLO® controller at a silo in New South Wales following the filing of a provisional patent application ‘Improved Fumigation of Particulate Commodities’.
  • 1994: Completed a revision of the recommendations for phosphine usage in Australia.

Bob Winks retired from CSIRO on 24th January 1997.

Honours and awards

Awards

1995

Miles Bourke Award by the Australian Grains Institute, Victorian Division Inc – for outstanding contributions to the grain industry

1993

CSIRO Medal for Research Achievement – for outstanding contributions to the grain industry

Committees

1983

CSIRO representative on the Agricultural Chemicals Committee of Standing Committee on Agriculture

1975

Member, Editorial Board, Journal of Stored Products Research

1969 – 70

Councillor, Entomological Society of Queensland

1969 – 70

Convenor and Editor, Newsletter of the Entomological Society of Queensland

1968 – 70

Business Manager, Australian Entomological Society

1967

Member, Wheat Industry Research Council Review Committee to review grain storage research projects supported by the WIRC

1965 – 67

Member, Pest Control Research Advisory Committee of the Australian Wheat Board

1963 – 67

Commonwealth Government representative at the Conferences of Commonwealth & State Entomologists, held under the auspices of the Standing Committee on Agriculture

Source

  • Winks RG, 2010, Personal communication.