Harry Thompson: A platinum memory

Harry Thompson

My story begins in February 1960. As a fresher commencing university, I arrived at the St Lucia Campus by train and bus during O Week. I had received a Teacher Scholarship from the Department of Education of the Queensland Government to complete a four year Bachelor of Science and Diploma in Education. As I did well in Senior Studies at secondary school in mathematics and science, the Scholarship was directed at university studies in mathematics and science, followed by education and teaching.

Lectures began on the Monday after O Week with Chemistry in the Steele Building; our lecturer was Professor T. G. H. Jones. Other subjects in my suite for the semester were Physics, Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics. Friendships with prac partners quickly formed and we soon became used to the regimes that operated in the first year Chemistry and Physics laboratories. I completed first and second year subjects with enthusiasm and good grades.

My major hurdle was in Inorganic Chemistry 3 Honours, where the emphasis was on a research project. In a discussion with Dr John Hall, he expressed his desire that I do some work in preparing organo-metallic compounds of platinum. I could not believe what I was hearing, as in those days, pure platinum was more expensive than gold. Nevertheless, Dr Hall gave me a copy of a research paper on what had already been investigated on these compounds and together we designed a project that would take this innovative area beyond what was already known. So I started work, again with considerable enthusiasm.

I had to replicate the findings of the research paper and then proceed to the next stage, which Dr Hall had mapped out for me. All went well with the replication, but after that, what should have happened from the theory simply did not! Dr Hall could not understand this and asked that the replication be repeated. More platinum! Eventually, we were getting towards Week 12 of the semester, and I was practically spending every hour of each day in the laboratory with my platinum. And so was Dr Hall. We could not understand what was going wrong.

As the end of the semester loomed, I was asked to write up what I had done in the project and hand it in to Dr Hall. I thought I had failed the subject, which would mean that I couldn’t graduate at the end of the year. How would I explain that to my Scholarship panel? Imagine my surprise when I was given a Credit, and all was well. Dr Hall must have persuaded the Faculty Board that enough had been done to make it worth this level of achievement.

By the end of the next year, I had completed my degree and diploma, and I commenced teaching in 1964. I joined the Science Teachers’ Association of Queensland and came to Brisbane for a conference held at St Lucia that year. I made a quick visit to see Dr Hall and enquired how his platinum research was going. Very, very well, he replied. At which point I asked, well why did we get nowhere in 1962? He answered that the original research report we used had a sentence missing in the journal. He had had to contact the author after my work, who pointed out this omission. The bill for the platinum had made my work the most expensive research he’d led that year!

Harry Thompson, Brisbane.
Bachelor of Science 1963, Bachelor of Education Hons 1972, Master of Educational Studies 1977,
Master of Education 2006.