Howard Florey

Established by an Act of State Parliament in 1971, the Howard Florey Institute was named after Lord Howard Florey, the Australian Nobel laureate whose research work on penicillin continues to save millions of lives each year.

Howard Florey and the Institute that bore his name

Established by an Act of State Parliament in 1971, the Howard Florey Institute was named after Lord Howard Florey, the Australian Nobel laureate whose research work on penicillin continues to save millions of lives each year.

Florey's portrait appeared on the Australian $50 note for 22 years (1973–95), and the suburb of Florey in the national capital Canberra is named after him. In 2006, the federal government of Australia renamed the Australian Student Prize given to outstanding high-school leavers the "Lord Florey Student Prize". Florey is regarded by the Australian scientific and medical community as one of its greatest scientists.

But there is much more to the story than meets the eye.

Key figures

The Florey’s history as a research institute really began in 1947 when its founder, Professor Derek Ashworth Denton began researching the control of salt and water balance in health and disease. After stints working for various specialists in the UK, he decided in the early 1950s to return to Australia to further his research interests at the University of Melbourne.

Through his skill at tennis, Denton became friends with brothers Ken and Baillieu Myer of the famous retail family, and stockbroker Ian Potter. Eventually, these men together became the founders of the research institute they named after the most famous Australian scientist of the day. Their personal commitment to the value of scientific research, their persuasive skills and wide circle of acquaintances around the world were all instrumental in raising the very substantial funds needed to build the Howard Florey Institute in the grounds of Melbourne University’s Parkville campus.

The unique approach of the Institute at that time was in the use of sheep as experimental animals in its bio-medical studies – the Institute was commonly known as the “Sheep Hilton” because of its cutting-edge facilities and contented animals. Denton’s mastery of his subject resulted in a critically acclaimed book which encapsulated his life’s work: “The Hunger for Salt”.

As the neuroscience knowledge explosion occurred during the 1990s, the Board made the strategic decision in 1997 to change the Institute’s focus to brain disorders. After nearly 40 years at the forefront of medical research, in 2007 the Howard Florey Institute became a founding partner in Florey Neuroscience Institutes, and continues to lead Australia in brain research.