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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ampt, Gustav Adolph (1886–1953)

by Joan T. Radford

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Gustav Adolph Ampt (1886-1953), chemical analyst, was born on 19 July 1886 at Hawthorn, Victoria, son of Gustav Adolph Ampt, engineering draftsman, formerly of Germany, and his wife Emilie Clara Adelaide, née Sander. He attended University High School and qualified for matriculation in 1901, entering the University of Melbourne in 1904 to study engineering. The next year he transferred, for health reasons, to the less physically strenuous science course, gaining exhibitions in second-year chemistry and natural philosophy in 1906. He qualified B.Sc. in chemistry in 1907, but the accidental death in January 1908 of his sister Gertrude, a musician, just before his honours examination, left a psychological barrier to his seeking further degrees.  

In 1908-10 Ampt held government research scholarships, totalling £250, for analytical work on plant foods and the quartz microbalance. It was carried out in the laboratories of the university and of the Commonwealth Defence Department where he was employed in 1908-18. He visited Britain in 1908 for experience in explosives analysis and later combined his chemical duties with inspection of defence establishments throughout the Australian Commonwealth. At the height of anti-German hysteria in World War I he suffered a completely unfounded attack upon his loyalty, but was appointed by Professor Masson as a part-time demonstrator in the university's chemistry department. There in 1919 he completed work for the Advisory Council of Science and Industry on tin-plate substitutes, for which he was awarded the (F. S.) Grimwade Prize for applied chemistry.

Ampt became (senior) demonstrator (1921), lecturer (1926) and senior lecturer (1936), instructing later-year classes in practical analytical chemistry and supervising the diploma courses in public health and analytical chemistry. For thirty years his meticulous instruction left an indelible impression upon students: the training they received in skill, accuracy, and integrity in chemical analysis was a hallmark of Melbourne's chemistry graduates. He organized superbly, but initiated few educational changes. Chemical consulting, mainly as a referee when professional analysts differed, occupied some of his time.

During World War II Ampt co-operated in investigations upon tungsten purity, optical glass and chemical warfare. He contributed regularly to analytical studies of rocks, developed numerous methods of chemical analysis and gained international recognition, particularly in his work in association with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1949-50 on methods of rock analysis. Staff and senior students benefited from his kindly and hospitable disposition; he appreciated humour if not directed against himself.

For over twenty years from 1921 Ampt was examiner and syllabus adviser in technical school and public examination chemistry, superintendent of the public examinations in Melbourne in 1933-47, and office-bearer in and frequent scientific contributor to the Melbourne University Chemical Society from 1907, the Society of Chemical Industry of Victoria from 1909 and the Australian Chemical Institute from 1918. He was a keen philatelist.

Illness dogged his later life. He died on 4 May 1953 of hypertensive cerebro-vascular disease, only a year after retirement, survived by his wife Margaret Helen, née Boyne, whom he had married at Camberwell on 16 October 1913, a daughter and two sons. He was cremated with Presbyterian rites, leaving an estate valued for probate at £13,936.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Radford, A History of the Chemistry Department of the University of Melbourne (Melb, 1978)
  • Melbourne University Magazine, 1907, 1920
  • Science and Industry, vol 1 (1919)
  • Royal Australian Chemical Institute, Proceedings, 20 (1953)
  • University of Melbourne Gazette, May 1953
  • Society of Chemical Industry Victoria, Records and minutes 1919, 1947, 1949, (Basser Lib, Canb)
  • Science Faculty minutes 1905, 1908-10, 1939, 1953 (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • box 459/15, 1915 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Joan T. Radford, 'Ampt, Gustav Adolph (1886–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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