William (Bill) Walladge Mansfield (1924-1974)

By Helen WolffJuly 12th, 2023

Bill Mansfield had a long and distinguished career in CSIRO joining the physical chemistry group of the Division of Industrial Chemistry in 1946.

Time at CSIRO

Bill joined the physical chemistry group of the Division of Industrial Chemistry in 1946. Although he was then only 21 years of age, he had completed an Honours (1st class) Bachelor of Science and one further year of research at the University of Adelaide.

His first project was concerned with improving the methods of wool-scouring and he was able to make a number of useful contributions to this process.

In 1951, he spent a year working with Professor A. E. Alexander at the NSW University of Technology.

This year was very important to his development and it was soon after his return to Fishermen’s Bend that he started work on the control of evaporation from water storages in hot, dry locations, a project which established his scientific reputation.

After the Torrey Canyon disaster in the English Channel, the Australian Government became concerned about the possibility of oil pollution to coastal waters from damaged oil tankers.
The Department of Shipping and Transport convened an interdepartmental committee to develop a national plan to handle such an occurrence and Bill was co-opted onto this, tackling the problem with enthusiasm.

He carried out a number of laboratory experiments and then took part in some small field trials held in the Great Australian Bight and operating from the lighthouse provision ship, ‘Cape Pillar’.

Early in 1967, Bill learned of the postulated existence of a new and more stable form of water, often described as polywater. He realised that the behaviour of this postulated species of water was inconsistent with the second law of thermodynamics and reasoned that the observed behaviour must he the result of experimental artefacts. Bill set out systematically to repeat many of the experiments that had been described in the literature. He correctly found that traces
of silicates or lactates (from sweat) were responsible for the experimental observations. Unfortunately, he was a few months too early with these results and found the scientific journals unwilling to accept his papers, with the result that later investigators received most of the credit for these discoveries.

About 1970, Bill began to consider the importance of the methods of physical chemistry (on a grand scale) to the study of the environment. He prepared a research proposal for the study of the distribution of CO2 and other molecular species in the atmosphere and their transfer to the oceans and to the soil.

After 28 years at Fishermen’s Bend (except for the year spent in Sydney), Bill transferred in June 1974 to the Division of Atmospheric Physics where he continued working on this project, which he described as atmospheric and oceanic chemistry.

Bill had very strong views on the motivation of scientists and believed it wrong to seek self-glory and worldly honours.

However, he moderated his position on worldly honours a little in his last few years, allowing himself to obtain a D.Sc. from the University of Adelaide, and to be elected to Fellowship of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute and the Australian Institute of Physics.

Honours and awards

1973 Doctor of Science awarded by the University of Adelaide
Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI)
Fellow of the Australian Institute of Physics


Adapted from a submission to CoResearch, CSIRO’s staff newsletter (no. 190, March 1975), p. 2

Further reading