History of the Foundation

The Physics Foundation was established in 1954 by Emeritus Professor Harry Messel, AC CBE. Originally known as the Nuclear Research Foundation, it was formed as a voluntary philanthropic association of individuals and private organisations dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in science education, research, training and communication. The Foundation was the first of its kind within the Commonwealth and the first foundation established within the University of Sydney.

Harry Messel soon realised that the School of Physics needed an electronic computer as a tool for theoretical physics. In 1956, SILLIAC – the first Australian-built computer built within an Australian University – was switched on for the first time. It was a vacuum tube (electronic valve) machine that used electrostatic storage tubes for memory.

Desk Image

Harry was also passionate about science education in high schools. The first International Science School (ISS) was held in 1958. The initial program was developed for high school teachers with an emphasis on physics, but after four years the ISS shifted its focus to science education for senior high school students, to encourage young people to pursue further studies and careers in science.

Since 1962 the ISS has been hosted in the School of Physics. Held every two years, each meeting hosts approximately 140 students from Australia and around the world.

To date, the ISS has welcomed over 4,000 students, inspiring and changing the lives of many science scholars. To ensure that this unique program can continue, the Foundation is now building the Messel Endowment, a fund to secure the future of the ISS in perpetuity.