FROM the back of an old Arnott’s van, he screened the first ever television broadcast in Australia during the Queen’s royal tour in 1954. Fifteen years later, he ran tracking stations for NASA and provided the signal that relayed man’s first landing on the moon.
But it is nanoscience that has John Hooke more excited than ever about communications in Australia.
The largely untapped science of manipulating matter on an incredibly microscopic level has the potential to change everything from the size of the internet to the resilience of sunscreen. Yesterday, Mr Hooke, a former chief executive of Amalgamated Wireless Australasia and a director of BHP and Channel Ten, donated $5 million to form the Australian Institute of Nanoscience within the University of Sydney’s school of physics.
”Why did the astronomers look out to space? I think this is a similar process; looking in, exploring new frontiers, ever smaller, the excitement of discovering,” he said. ”This just seems a whole new world and the applications of nanotechnology seem to be limitless. I think it’s the most exciting thing to happen in science, certainly in my lifetime.”
Mr Hooke’s father would be especially proud. After joining Amalgamated Wireless Australasia in its first year, Sir Lionel Hooke brought the first radio to Australia, the first television, the first transistor and optic fibres.
AWA was a name as iconic as Vegemite to some Australians, said the head of the school of physics, Professor Clive Baldock. Their York Street office was once the tallest building in the country.
Sir Lionel transmitted Dame Nellie Melba from his home in Brighton to Parliament House to convince the federal government to license radio broadcasting. On Sir Ernest Shackletons’s fateful crossing of the Antarctic in 1914, Sir Lionel was the wireless operator whose morse code messages saved the expedition, trapped in an ice field for eight months.
His son is now looking to the next communications revolution.
”When we started transistors in this country, a lot of us couldn’t identify where it was all leading,” he said. ”We didn’t know whether you’d have a transistor in your washing machine or your iron or whatever but we just knew it had a huge future and I think this is the same thing but on a much bigger and more important scale.”
The institute will further world-leading research by the school of physics into quantum computing and photonics, such as reducing the energy to run the internet.