Basil Stuart Hetzel (1922-2017)

By Colin WardMarch 10th, 2011


Basil Stuart Hetzel was born in London in 1922 and was educated at King’s College and St Peters College in Adelaide. He graduated in medicine from the University of Adelaide with distinction in 1944. After postgraduate education and research in Adelaide (1945-51); New York (Fulbright Research Scholar (1951-54); and London (1954-55), he returned to the University of Adelaide as Reader and later Michell Professor of Medicine (1956-68). From 1968 to 1975 he was Foundation Professor of Social and Preventive Medicine at Monash University in Melbourne, before joining CSIRO.

Basil Hetzel is an Australian medical pioneer, and one of the National Trust’s Living Treasures. He was the first Chief of CSIRO’s Division of Human Nutrition, serving in that role from 1975 until 1985.

At CSIRO, he led the multidisciplinary team that first established the effect of iodine deficiency on brain development in animal models including the marmoset and sheep. These animal studies indicated the significant effects of iodine deficiency on growth and development with reduced brain size and retarded development. The effects on the brain were part of a spectrum of effects including abortion and stillbirths as well as goitre and growth retardation of the foetus due to reduced thyroid gland function in both mother and foetus.


In 1986, Dr Hetzel initiated and then became Executive Director of the International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD) which is now a global multidisciplinary group of 700 scientists, medical administrators and public health workers from more than 100 countries. The ICCIDD works closely with the World Health Organization and with UNICEF and is committed to bridging the gap between research and application in 130 countries.

In May 1992, he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of South Australia, serving until 2000.

In September 1992, he was elected as Chancellor of the newly established University of South Australia and completed a six-year term in 1998.

Basil Hetzel passed away on 4 February 2017. He was honoured with a State Memorial Service at the Bonython Hall, University of Adelaide on 27 February 2017.

Honours and awards

For his work on iodine deficiency and its eradication Basil Hetzel has received a number of awards and honours, including:


2006 Emeritus Professor, University of Adelaide
2005 Naming of Health Sciences Building, University of South Australia
1999 Knight of St John Hospitallers
1998 Honorary Doctorate, University of South Australia
1997 Life Member, Australasian Epidemiological Association
1994 Edward Stirling Lecture, University of Adelaide
1993 Honorary Member, International Epidemiological Association
1991 Fellow Nutrition Society of Australia
1990 Companion of the Order of Australia
1989 Honorary Professor, Tianjin Medical University, People’s republic of China
1989 Gorden Lecture, Public Health Association of Australia, Melbourne
1987 Life Member, Public Health Association of Australia
1981 Fellow Academy of Technological Science & Engineering
1980 Fellow of Faculty of Public Health Medicine, Royal Colleges of Physicians, UK
1980 President 8th International Thyroid Congress, Sydney
1972 Fellow of Royal College of Physicians of London
1964-66 President of the Endocrine Society of Australia
1958 Fellow of Royal Australasian College of Physicians


2009 Pollin Pediatric Research Prize in recognition of his discovery that maternal iodine deficiency can cause brain damage in newborns, and for orchestrating an effective global campaign in support of salt iodization programs aimed at eradicating iodine deficiency disorders
2007 Prince Mahidol Award, presented by the King of Thailand for contribution to international public health through research demonstrating the effect of iodine deficiency on brain development and the initiative of promoting international action through the International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders
2004 Living National Treasure Award, National Trust, NSW
2004 Kazue McLaren Leadership Award, Asia Pacific Academic Consortium in Public Health
2001 Federation Centenary Medal
2000 Senior South Australian Achiever Award
2000 Award for Distinguished Research Achievement, International Association for Scientific Study of Intellectual Disability
1997 RSL Anzac Peace Prize, Australia
1995 Distinguished Alumni Award, University of Adelaide
1994 Hixson Award, Kiwanis International Service Club
1993 Alwyn Smith Prize, Faculty of Public Health Medicine, Royal Colleges of Physicians, United Kingdom
1985 Malinckrodt Prize Lecture, 9th International Thyroid Congress, Sao Paulo, Brazil
1964 Susman Prize for Medical Research awarded by RACP


  • Hetzel BS, 2008, Personal communication.