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Sir Frank MacFarlane Burnet OM AK KBE

1899 – 1985

Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet (1899–1985), medical scientist, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1960 for his work with Sir Peter Medawar on acquired immunological tolerance, paving the way for successful human organ transplants. In 1960 he was the first-ever Australian of the Year.

Burnet had earlier worked with Jean Macnamara to prove that there were at least two viruses causing poliomyelitis, and had isolated the Q fever bacterium, Coxiella burnetti. Much of his research was carried out at Melbourne's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, where he was Assistant Director from 1928 to 1931 and Director from 1944 to 1965.

During his 21-year directorial tenure, the institute became a world leader in the study of influenza virus and immunology. His successor, Sir Gustav Nossal described Burnet as 'truly a lateral thinker, but a highly disciplined one’. One of a handful of Australians to have been awarded the Order of Merit an exclusive honour bestowed personally by the British sovereign – and one of only a dozen Australians to have been made a Knight of the Order of Australia, Burnet is the most recognised and decorated scientist to have elected to carry on his research in Australia, despite overtures from around the world.

Updated 2018