Science alumnus Professor David Black wins Alumni Award

8 May 2018

Professor David Black, science alumnus and eminent chemistry researcher, has won the Alumni Award for Professional Achievement from the University of Sydney.


To fully appreciate the work of Professor David Black (BSc '59 MSc '60), your perspective has to be both molecular and global.

His achievements in research and teaching have been built around his widely recognised expertise in organic chemistry. But his parallel mission has been to help guide and shape some of the world's peak scientific organisations.

Speaking from his office at the University of New South Wales, where he is now an emeritus professor of organic chemistry, David describes his research work: "I think it's simplest to say that I am a molecular architect. We can take existing molecules and turn them into completely new ones. That's the kind of chemistry I do."

Creating new organic molecules can lead to new pharmaceuticals. For example, in cancer research, the search for treatments needs a constant supply of different molecular starting points.

David's years of building molecules has seen him receive numerous awards, including, in 2017, the David Craig Medal from the Australian Academy of Science, the highest accolade for chemistry research in Australia. In 2012, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia.

While the value of David's research is immense, it is matched by his contribution to the broader scientific community.

His keen insight, hands-on approach and attention to detail saw him become President of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, before moving to the international stage where he became the Secretary- General of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) in 2003, and the Secretary-General of the International Council for Science (ICSU) in 2011.

The roles were often hectic, but David knew the value in what he was doing.

"These organisations are critical in bringing together people with similar or related specialisations who can develop collaborations, which then drive scientific progress," he says.

As he prepares to retire from his role at the ICSU, David's final project for the organisation has been literally transformative. After months of difficult planning, negotiation and statute development, the ICSU and the International Social Science Council (ISSC) are merging to form the International Science Council.

This historic merger will provide a single, global voice for all the sciences at a time when science is evolving and looking for answers to some serious problems.

"It doesn't matter what scientific discovery you make, it's going to have a social consequence," David says. "The sooner you start thinking about what those consequences might be, the better. That's why the merger with the social sciences is important."

As honoured and "amazed" as David is by his Alumni Award for Professional Achievement, there is a sense that his greatest career reward comes from guiding his students. He has been described as the father of a generation of Australian chemists; a quality that came from his own gratitude for the academic foundation that the University of Sydney gave him as a student.

"The first-year chemistry lecturers I had were absolutely brilliant, world-class people," he says. "I came to Sydney to do maths, but was seduced into chemistry. I believe you need a strong foundation if you're ever going to have real professional achievement."

The Alumni Awards program is made up of six Alumni Achievement Awards and six Graduate Medals, each with their own specific categories and criteria. The Alumni Award for Professional Achievement recognises outstanding achievements of alumni in their professional fields, including in industry, professional and research sectors.

Find out more about the Alumni Awards.

Contact: Katynna Parry

Phone: (02) 9351 6997

Email: 24511f4027574e7b441246414c751a2f2a0d2610410f0f14572c00