Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Francis Patrick John (Frank) Dwyer (1910–1962)

by Stanley E. Livingstone

This article was published:

Francis Patrick John (Frank) Dwyer (1910-1962), professor of chemistry, was born on 3 December 1910 at Nelsons Plains, near Raymond Terrace, New South Wales, eldest of five children of William John Dwyer, farmer, and his wife Susan, née O'Loughlin, both native-born. Frank was educated at Marist Brothers' High School, West Maitland, and the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1931; M.Sc., 1933; D.Sc., 1946). As an undergraduate he developed an improved method for preparing pure diazoaminobenzene. Although he was interested in organic chemistry, his only opportunity to do research was in X-ray crystallography under David Mellor; for his master's degree he examined the crystal structure of indium and the occurrence of ß-cristobalite in opal. Dwyer's interest in coordination chemistry was aroused by Mellor and strengthened by Francis Lions's encouragement.

Appointed head teacher of inorganic chemistry at Sydney Technical College in 1934, Dwyer began an investigation of the reaction of diazoamino compounds with metal salts in producing highly coloured 'lakes'—loose coordination complexes adsorbed at the surface of metal hydroxides. Using these reactions, he devised micro-analytical tests for various metal ions. This work was reported in eighteen papers in the journals of the Society of Chemical Industry and the Royal Australian Chemical Institute. On 12 January 1938 at St Paul's Catholic Church, Dulwich Hill, he married Lola Mary Bosworth, a stenographer.

(Sir) Ronald Nyholm joined the staff in 1940. He and Dwyer collaborated in their research and formed a close personal friendship. Despite heavy teaching loads, between 1942 and 1947 they reported complexes of rhodium, iridium and osmium in seventeen papers in the Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales. Dwyer had joined the society in 1934 and was a councillor (1942-45 and 1948-49). He was awarded the R.A.C.I.'s 1940 Rennie and 1943 H. G. Smith medals.

Dwyer was appointed senior lecturer in chemistry at the University of Sydney in December 1945. While continuing his research on metal coordination compounds, he began to study the optical activity of metal complexes—which eventually led him into biological chemistry—and also started work on configurational activity, stereochemistry of sexadentate complexes, and electron-transfer reactions. He shared the University of Melbourne's 1953 David Syme research prize.

In the United States of America in 1953-54, Dwyer was visiting professor at Northwestern University, Illinois, and George Fisher Baker lecturer at Cornell University, New York. In 1957 he was offered a chair at Pennsylvania State University. Keith Sutherland, (Sir) Hugh Ennor and others, with help from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, persuaded Dwyer to accept a readership in biological inorganic chemistry at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, Australian National University. He was given a personal chair in 1960 and elected a fellow (1961) of the Australian Academy of Science. In Canberra he investigated the effect of metal complexes on biological activity. He published 160 research papers. With Mellor, he commenced editing the book, Chelating Agents and Metal Chelates (New York, 1964).

Considered by his students to be an excellent teacher, Dwyer was quietly spoken, with expressive eyes which lit up when he smiled; he had friendliness, modesty, unfailing cheerfulness and enthusiasm for everything he did. He enjoyed golf and fishing. Survived by his wife, daughter and two sons, he died of a coronary occlusion on 22 June 1962 at his Griffith home and was buried in Canberra cemetery. His friends and former students established a fund to endow the Dwyer memorial lecture and medal of the University of New South Wales Chemical Society; the first lecture (1963) was given by his old friend Nyholm.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Journal of Science, 25, 21 Nov 1962, p 215
  • Chemistry and Industry, 15 June 1963, p 980
  • Australian Academy of Science, Year Book, 1963, p 32, and for his publications
  • Royal Society of New South Wales, Journal and Proceedings, 97, 1964, p 126
  • Australian National University News, 5, Nov 1970, p 13
  • Royal Australian Chemical Institute, Proceedings, vol 37, no 8, Aug 1970, p 199
  • A. T. Baker and S. E. Livingstone, 'The Early History of Coordination Chemistry in Australia', Polyhedron (Oxford), 4, 1985, p 1337
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 June 1962.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Stanley E. Livingstone, 'Dwyer, Francis Patrick John (Frank) (1910–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024