Colin Adam, interviewed by Tom Spurling, 15 August 2018

By Helen WolffSeptember 19th, 2018

Colin Adam was Chief of the Division of Materials Science and Technology (1987), Director of the Institute of Industrial Technologies (1988-1996), Managing Director of Sirotech (1990-1991), Deputy Chief Executive (1996-2000) and Acting Chief Executive (2000-2001)

Edited transcript (PDF – 444 KB)

Interview summary

Dr Colin McLean Adam was born in Melbourne on 6 October 1943. His father was an electrician working in the Royal Australian Air Force as a Technical Instructor. After the war, the family moved back to Queensland where Colin’s father worked as a technical teacher at The Scots College and the Post-Master General’s Department. Colin’s paternal grandfather was a marine engineer who tried in vain to interest Colin in a career in the merchant navy. Colin’s father had to move around South East Queensland to gain promotion in the PMG so Colin went to a number of schools. He recalls the influence of Miss Kennedy at Coorparoo State School who encouraged him to read widely. His longest period at any one school was at Camp Hill State High School where he graduated as the top male student.

Colin describes his experiences as an engineering student at the University of Queensland, his year working as a civil engineer at the Hydro-Electric Commission in Hobart and his decision to do a PhD in metallurgical engineering back at the University of Queensland, where his work linked to the needs of Comalco Aluminium Ltd.

Colin talks about his first academic position at the University of Auckland, Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering where he continued his metal physics research, his sabbatical leave at Iowa State University in Ames to understand the agricultural equipment industry and at Buffalo, New York to look at the metallurgical industry based on hydro-power out of Niagara Falls.

In the next part of the interview, Colin talks about his long and varied career in the US. He started as an Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering at the State University of New York, Amherst, then as the Program Manager in Advanced Alloy Development, Pratt and Whitney Aircraft, Government Products Division, West Palm Beach in Florida and finally, as Director, Metals and Ceramics Laboratories, Allied Corporation, Morristown, New Jersey.

Colin recounts his meeting with Dr John Lowke, who was then Chief of the CSIRO Division of Applied Physics, and his subsequent appointment as Chief of the CSIRO Division of Materials Science and Technology in 1987. This includes some reflections on his family life in Morristown and their desire to return to Australia. In 1988, he was promoted to the position of Director of the newly formed Institute of Industrial Technologies where his brief was to improve the industrial relevance of the work of the Divisions.

In this part of the interview, Colin outlines his work on the CSIRO Commercial Practices Manual, his interactions with the Board and with senior company executives. This section also includes an account of the origin and management of the CSIRO-Boeing alliance.

Colin then talks about his time as Acting Chief Executive of CSIRO following the death of Dr Malcolm McIntosh and his interactions with the Department of Finance over property matters.


Interview conducted by Tom Spurling and recorded at Colin Adam’s residence in Melbourne on 15 August 2018 as part of the CSIRO History Project.


Copyright owned by Swinburne University of Technology and CSIRO. Some re-use permitted (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND)