Happy birthday, Gus Nossal

Sir Gustav Nossal (born 4 June 1931) is an internationally renowned immunologist. Nossal directed the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for 31 years, from 1965 to 1996. He is also an Emeritus Professor at the University of Melbourne, and he served as President of the Australian Academy of Science from 1994 to 1998.

His research focussed on how the immune system makes antibodies to ward off infectious diseases. He also did significant work on immunological tolerance, showing how the immune system can distinguish between foreign agents and the body – noting how it can break down in autoimmune diseases.

When speaking to Sally Warhaft on the Wheeler Centre’s The Leap Year podcast, Nossal said it was interesting to see the discipline he worked in for so long suddenly make international headlines. While the pandemic had been devastating, he said it was gratifying to see science and immunology come to the fore – and respond well.

“It’s often said that science is value-free,” he told Warhaft. “I disagree with that. I think science is absolutely value-laden. I think we can use science to obtain if not the truth – because absolute truth is something very, very hard to achieve – at least the best approximation to truth and reality that human beings are able to devise. And as such, it has very high value.

“Now, society as a whole perceives that, but only dimly. And it’s when we get to practical matters, such as who is going to do the research for a COVID vaccine, that society begins to focus on just how powerful science is, and how science can be unequivocally a force for good if humans only turn their minds to it.”

Happy 90th, Gus.

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