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Trikojus, Victor Martin (Trik) (1902–1985)

by L. R. Humphreys

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Victor Martin Trikojus (1902-1985), professor of biochemistry, was born on 5 February 1902 at Darlinghurst, Sydney, eldest child of Martin August Trikojus, a hairdresser from East Prussia, and his New South Wales-born wife, Charlotte Josephine, née Thompson. Following his father’s death in 1911, Victor helped family finances by selling newspapers on Milsons Point railway station. He was captain (1920) of Sydney Technical High School before studying at the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1925; D.Sc., 1956) and gaining first-class honours in organic chemistry. An 1851 Exhibition scholarship took him to Queen’s College, University of Oxford (D.Phil., 1934). He spent nine months in Munich in 1927 working on the structure and synthesis of alkaloids with Professor Heinrich Wieland before returning to a lectureship (1928) in Sydney.

Trik—as he was generally known—had a striking appearance. Tall and athletic, he possessed a physical and intellectual vigour that was matched by a forceful personality and direct form of address. Music, theatre, books and a love of sport sustained his enjoyment of life. On 11 November 1932 at the office of the registrar general, Sydney, he married Russian-born Lisuscha (Elizabeth) Annie Engels (d.1984). Appointed lecturer (1934) in medical organic chemistry in the medical faculty, Trikojus began developing an interest in thyroid metabolism leading to publications with Charles Lambie and Arnold Loeser. He worked with the latter while on sabbatical leave at the University of Freiburg, Germany, in 1936.

Back in Sydney, from 1940 Trikojus chaired the drugs sub-committee established by the Australian Association of Scientific Workers to ensure Australia had access to essential pharmaceuticals during World War II. The professional resentment of Dr Adolph Bolliger and the excessive patriotism of Professor Victor Bailey prompted them to denounce Trikojus, who had publicly praised Germany’s economic recovery and, in correspondence with German scientists, implied sympathy with some of their government’s goals. On 17 January 1941 he was incarcerated under National Security Regulations. Hearing his appeal, an advisory committee noted that many witnesses supported him as ‘a man of high ideals as regards scientific research and public duty’ and ‘a loyal and valuable citizen’. He was released in April 1941, although restricted in his activities and denied recovery of legal costs.

With G. K. Hughes, Trikojus then developed a process for synthesising sulphaguanidine, a drug urgently required to treat the bacillary dysentery that was debilitating troops fighting the Japanese in Papua and New Guinea. Trikojus’s patriotism was evident when he ceded patent rights to Monsanto Ltd, who had refused production if a patent were pending. With colleagues he also developed mersalyl to aid the control of sepsis in wounds, suggested the use of merthiosal to prevent fungal growth on optical instruments in the tropics, and facilitated the production of vitamin C.

In March 1943 Trikojus was appointed professor of biochemistry at the University of Melbourne, where he devoted much energy to developing the pre-eminent Russell Grimwade School of Biochemistry, and continued research on the breakdown of thyroglobulin. In 1948 he and F. J. R. Hird had first identified triiodothyronine (T3), the major active molecule of thyroid metabolism, a discovery generally attributed to Rosalind Pitt-Rivers, who had seen their paper but omitted mention of it. Trikojus’ integration of organic chemistry and biochemistry, and his identification of links to other disciplines, was seminal. He was a foundation member (1955), chairman (1956), and honorary life member (1964) of the Australian Biochemical Society and a fellow (1954), and vice-president (1964-66) of the Australian Academy of Science.

Beyond his own work, Trikojus helped to transform the focus of his university from that of an undergraduate teaching institution to a place of research, postgraduate education and international exchange. He was Melbourne’s first professorial dean of graduate studies (1963-65) and a foundation member (1965-66) of the Australian Research Grants Committee. Serving on committees directed to the safe labelling of foods, the control of harmful substances and the promotion of necessary additives, he influenced many advances in human health in Australia. A true internationalist, he worked for the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the International Union of Biochemistry, being elected to the council of the latter in 1967.

Trikojus was a ‘god-professor’, unfailingly courteous, if hierarchical, and exercising a natural authority and compassionate paternalism. On retirement in 1968, he was made an honorary research professor. He was appointed CBE (1971) and in 1982 a lecture theatre at Melbourne was named after him. Suffering Parkinson’s disease in his later years, Victor Trikojus died on 27 January 1985 at Kew and was cremated. He was survived by his daughter and son. A portrait by Louis Kahan is held by the university

Select Bibliography

  • L. R. Humphreys, Trikojus (2004)
  • Historical Records of Australian Science, vol 6, no 4, 1987, p 519
  • A6119, item 1070 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Trikojus papers (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

L. R. Humphreys, 'Trikojus, Victor Martin (Trik) (1902–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/trikojus-victor-martin-trik-15619/text26820, published in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 2 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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