In Western Australia, the name Noel Bayliss is mentioned every so often at Chemistry events. Over at the University of Western Australia, the Molecular and Chemical Sciences Building has been renamed to the Bayliss Building. At Murdoch University, away from the main traffic of students and staff there is a small courtyard nestled between Physics and Chemistry named Bayliss Court. I spent many afternoons in that courtyard frantically finishing lab reports or having a quiet lunch.
Though who was the late Emeritus Professor Noel Bayliss? Noel Bayliss, (1906-1996), was an Australian chemist. He also has a mineral, baylissite named after him. He attended the University of Melbourne enrolling in a science course majoring in Chemistry and Metallurgy though by the second year, Noel decided to switch to a joint major in Chemistry and Physics. Upon graduation, he was chosen as a Victorian Rhodes Scholar sending him to Oxford University.
Noel Bayliss spent some time in the United of California in Berkley in research and lectured at the University of Melbourne before arriving at UWA two weeks before the 1938 academic year began. The new Chemistry building was pleasant but it was lacking in equipment. There was no pH meter, potentiometer, calorimeter, or refractometer. The workshop was a room in the basement containing only a vice, hammer and saw. Added to this was that his predecessor, the former UWA Chair of Chemistry, Norman Wilsmore had left no files, course details or departmental records except one book containing previous examination records going back to 1913.
It wasn’t an environment that encouraged research and UWA was considered as a teaching institution unlike today where it is known for its strength in research. Noel Bayliss together with George Tattersall and George Elliot set about building upon the small Chemistry department. Noel Bayliss held the position of UWA Chair of Chemistry from 1938 – 1971 during which he brought together research teams especially in the area of trace element deficiencies.
By 1970 after 32 years at UWA, Noel Bayliss had a Chemistry department with 23 staff at Lecturer level and above, approximately 25 technical staff including electronic and glassblowing specialists and 83 research students. This was a substantial increase to the numbers in 1938 when he arrived to a department that had three staff, (including himself), 79 students in first year Chemistry, 14 students in third year Chemistry, two Honours candidates and one Masters candidate.
Noel Bayliss’ next venture was at Murdoch University where he led the introduction of new courses and rapidly developed Chemistry research. In 1975 Murdoch University awarded its first degree to Noel Bayliss, the honorary degree of Doctor of the University for his work and influence in the planning of the institution as a whole as well as developing the Chemistry course.
The WA Branch of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, (RACI), established the Bayliss Youth Lecture as a tribute to the late Eminent Professor Sir Noel Bayliss for his contribution to Chemistry and Education and his encouragement of students to study Chemistry. It is an annual event open to anyone especially students in high school. Talks with titles like, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and Soylent Green: What Science Has Done With Food?, All That is Solid Melts into Air and Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble taking the audience on journeys in Chemistry while discussing pressing concerns of the modern world and an exploration of the historical and cultural events that Chemistry has influenced.
As a Western Australian Chemist, I am so grateful that someone so talented helped shaped the beginning of Chemistry in this state. Noel Bayliss’ legacy lives on in the Chemistry research that occurs in this state and also in the teaching of the field.