Prof. John Ralston

Emeritus Laureate Professor

University of South Australia

John is a Physical and Colloid Chemist with complementary training in metallurgy, whose research interests embrace various aspects of interfacial science and engineering. His secondary education commenced at Christ Church Grammar in Melbourne and continued at Melbourne High School. John obtained his BSc[Hons] in Physical Chemistry at the University of Melbourne, subsequently completing his PhD in interfacial science under the supervision of Professor T W Healy. He joined the staff of Swinburne University as an Assistant Lecturer in 1970. During 1972 to 1974,John was a Science Research Council Research Fellow at the Royal School of Mines at Imperial College in London, working with Dr J A Kitchener on the surface behaviour of asbestos minerals.

He returned to Swinburne in 1974, subsequently establishing a Centre for Applied Colloid Science. In1978, John spent a sabbatical period with Professor R H Ottewill at the University of Bristol,studying the radiation scattering of microemulsions, linking with Dr Peter Pusey at the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment at Malvern and Dr Tharwat Tadros at ICI Jealots Hill.This period in the UK was followed directly by a sabbatical during 1979 at Wageningen University in The Netherlands, working with Professor J Lyklema on the interfacial behaviour of macroemulsions.In 1984 John was appointed Professor of Chemical Technology in the School of Chemical Technology at the then South Australian Institute of Technology,SAIT, the precursor to the University of South Australia. He revitalized the School, attracting money and students from many sources.

After some time, he decided that a new research institute was needed, as part of the new University of South Australia,concentrating principally in the area of interfacial science and engineering.In 1994, the Ian Wark Research Institute (“The WarkTM ”, 1994 to 2015) was founded, with John as its Director, until his retirement in 2012. Sir Ian Wark, 1900–1985, had been a leading light in minerals and materials research in Australia and was responsible for the founding of the CSIRO Division of Industrial Chemistry. The Wark itself developed and expanded, in size, people and reputation,to become a world-famous institute. It employed around 180 academic staff and research students, with an annual budget of order 20 M AUD, spread over three buildings.In 1999, John led the successful bid for a nine-year, Australian Research Council Special Research Centre for Particle and Material Interfaces. This underpinned the basic science carried out in the Wark in support of the more applied areas, in mineral processing as well as bio- and medical materials. The three major research themes were lead by John and his two fine colleagues, Roger Horn and Roger Smart. In 2006, John was the principal researcher who led the initiative to establish the Australian Mineral Science Research Institute (AMSRI). AMSRI was a virtual institute in particle science and engineering, with its headquarters at the Wark and involved collaborative research at the Universities of Queensland, Melbourne and Newcastle.

Major international companies were involved, through AMIRA International, along with overseas collaborators. In 2012, reflecting the success and reputation of the Wark, the University of South Australia received the top grade 5s in physical chemistry as well as in in Resources Engineering and Extractive Metallurgy, in the Excellence for Research in Australia assessment exercise. The Wark also played a leading, central role in the 73 MAUD Materials and Minerals Science Learning and Research Hub at the Mawson Lakes Campus. The Wark is now incorporated within the University’s Future Industries Institute. Since 1984, John has been awarded over $200M in competitive grant funding from the Australian Research Council, the Department of Education, Science and Training and national and international private industry. His research efforts with his colleagues have returned over $1BAUD to national and international industry with, in the case of minerals research, a verified ratio of 20 to 1 benefit to industry for each research dollar invested. John has actively supervised eighty five PhD research students.

These students have gone on to establish successful careers in universities, industry and other research institutions all around the world. John has received numerous awards and honours over the years. These include the Chemeca Medal in 2006 [ Australia’s highest honour in Chemical Engineering], the ATSE Clunies Ross Lifetime Contribution Award in 2009 and the Staudinger Durrer Lecture and Medal in 2012 from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH Zurich, for influential contributions to the fields of colloid and surface science. In 2008 John was made an Officer of the Order of Australia.

In 2007 John was awarded South Australian of the Year, the first scientist to be so honoured, as well as South Australian Scientist of the Year. Apart from mentoring research teams at UniSA, a number of his present activities, as a “roving ambassador” for UniSA, include strong interactions with universities, companies and research institutes internationally, especially in Canada, China, Europe, Africa and Japan. The University of South Australia has established the Ralston Medal for Excellence in Physical Chemistry as well as the John Ralston Chair in Minerals and Resource Engineering in recognition of John’s scientifuc legacy.

Other Panellists

Jon Williams

Jon Williams

Global People & Organisation Lead Partner

Colin Moorhead

Colin Moorhead


Vanessa Guthrie

Vanessa Guthrie


Minerals Council of Australia
Bronwyn Evans

Dr. Bronwyn Evans


Standards Australia