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LPrf John Ralston 

Position: Emeritus Laureate Professor LPrf John Ralston
Division/Portfolio: Division of Information Technology, Engineering and the Environment
School/Unit: Information Technology Engineering and the Environment Divisional Office
Campus: Mawson Lakes Campus
Office: MM2-01h
Telephone: +61 8 830 23066
Fax: +61 8 830 23683
Email: John_dot_Ralston_at_unisa_dot_edu_dot_au
URL for Business Card: http://people.unisa.edu.au/John.Ralston

John is a Physical and Colloid Chemist with complementary training in metallurgy, whose research interests embrace various aspects of interfacial science and engineering. In 1984 John was appointed Professor of Chemical Technology in the School of Chemical Technology. He revitalized the School, attracting money and students from many sources. After some time, he decided that a new research institute was needed, separate from the School of Chemical Technology, concentrating principally in the area of interfacial science and engineering.In 1994, the Ian Wark Research Institute (“The WarkTM ”, 1994 to 2015) was founded, with John as its Director, until his retirement in 2012. [Sir Ian Wark, 1900–1985, had been a leading light in minerals and materials research in Australia and was responsible for the founding of the CSIRO Division of Industrial Chemistry]. A new building for this purpose was erected by the University, adjacent to the School of Chemical Technology. John raised the finance for this building from both Federal and State Governments.The Wark itself developed and expanded, in size, people and reputation,to become a world-famous institute. It employed around 180 academic staff and research students, with an annual budget of order 20 M AUD. The staff and students were spread over three buildings.In 1999, John led the successful bid for a nine-year, Australian Research Council Special Research Centre for Particle and Material Interfaces. This underpinned the basic science carried out in the Wark in support of the more applied areas, in mineral processing as well as bio- and medical materials. The three major research themes were lead by John and his two fine colleagues, Roger Horn and Roger Smart. In 2006, John was the principal researcher who led the initiative to establish the Australian Mineral Science Research Institute (AMSRI). AMSRI was a virtual institute in particle science and engineering, with its headquarters at the Wark and involved collaborative research at the Universities of Queensland, Melbourne and Newcastle. Major international companies were involved, through AMIRA International, along with overseas collaborators. More recently[ 2012], reflecting the success and reputation of the Wark, the University of South Australia received the top grade 5s in physical chemistry as well as in in Resources Engineering and Extractive Metallurgy, in the Excellence for Research in Australia assessment exercise. The Wark also played a leading, central role in the 73 MAUD Materials and Minerals Science Learning and Research Hub at the Mawson Lakes Campus. Since 1984, John has been awarded over $200M in competitive grant funding from the Australian Research Council, the Department of Education, Science and Training and national and international private industry. His research efforts with his colleagues have returned over $1BAUD to national and international industry with, in the case of minerals research, a verified ratio of 20 to 1 benefit to industry for each research dollar invested. John has actively supervised eighty five PhD research students. These students have gone on to establish successful careers in universities, industry and other research institutions all around the world. John has received numerous awards and honours over the years. These include the Chemeca Medal in 2006 [ Australia's highest honour in Chemical Engineering], the ATSE Clunies Ross Lifetime Contribution Award in 2009 and the Staudinger Durrer Lecture and Medal in 2012 from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH Zurich, for influential contributions to the fields of colloid and surface science. In 2008 John was made an Officer of the Order of Australia. In 2007 John was awarded South Australian of the Year, the first scientist to be so honoured, as well as South Australian Scientist of the Year.

Links to other sites

Ian Wark Research Institute History 1994 to 2015

UniSA Enterprising Faces

Ralston Medal for Excellence in Physical Chemistry

Future Industries Institute

Ian Wark Medal

Norton Jackson Medal

MEI: Barry Wills in Conversation with John

Teaching interests

  • Physical Chemistry
  • Colloid and Interfacial Science
  • Minerals Processing Science and Technology
  • Interfacial Science and Engineering
  • Aqueous Interfacial Chemistry

Professional associations

Officer of the Order of Australia [AO]

Fellow Australian Academy of Science [FAA]

Fellow Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering [FTSE]

Fellow Royal Australian Chemical Institute [FRACI]


Dr.h.c. Abo Akademi, Finland

PhD Melbourne

DIC Imperial College London

MSc Melbourne

BSc(Hons) Melbourne Dip Ed Melbourne

Research interests

  • My research deals with three main themes - how bubbles contact particles; why things stick together and how liquids spread over surfaces.
  • The problems addressed cross the boundaries from pure physical chemistry to materials science to chemical and minerals engineering, with many connections with, and knowledge transfer to, national and international industry.
  • One area is the interactions of bubbles and particles, emphasising the fundamental physical chemistry of the elementary steps of collision, attachment (eg three phase contact line kinetics for a S/L/V system) and detachment. This work has included a very comprehensive collision model and the extension of these elementary process descriptions to interactions in mixed, turbulent systems, including ores, in landmark papers. Fluid dynamics is an intrinsic part of these descriptions.
  • Another interest is the solid-liquid interfacial chemistry of metal sulphides, oxides and silicates, including the action of organic and inorganic reagents. Spectroscopy is used extensively in these studies both in and ex situ. Electrical double layer properties, redox processes and metal ion hydrolysis are key contributors to understanding how metal sulphide interfaces respond to their environment and are modified
  • The third area involves the static and dynamic aspects of surface wetting, including surfaces which respond to external light, electric potential (electrowetting) and thermal influences. Structured surfaces are of particular interest as is the motion of liquid through narrow channels.The latter includes microfluidics. Liquids involved may be aqueous or organic or the exciting class of ionic liquids. Recently we have made major breakthroughs studying the energy dissipation processes that take place at moving contact lines and have identified the entities [ ion pairs or molecular clusters] that are transported, obeying Boltzmann statistics at moving contact lines. An exciting application in the minerals and allied industries involves very fast solvent extraction in microfluidic channels, including scale-up to industry relevant flow rates. This Gulliver to Lilliput approach is quite revolutionary.
  • A fourth area is the use of scanning probe microscopy [SPM]in imaging and colloid probe modes, of solid and fluid surfaces, including those decorated with adsorbed polymers. This has involved the direct measurement of bubble-particle interaction forces and the first determination of the line tension (SLV) of surface 'nanobubbles'. SPM has been coupled with infrared spectroscopy to identify the presence of dissolved gas at the hydrophobic solid-water interface, its link to surface heterogeneity and an interpretation of the hydrophobic force based on the alteration only of DLVO interactions.
  • This research has been extensively applied in industry: minerals, pharmaceuticals, specialty manufacturing and the chemical industry

Research publications

Journal publications at September 2015 total 323 with an h-index of 50 and over 9000 citations.Please note that well-cited textbook chapters and textbooks are not included, along with patents and over 100 confidential company reports. To access publications, click on "researcher ID" and follow the links for publication list in various formats as well as citation metrics.

Expertise for Media Contact

I am able to provide media comment in the following areas of expertise:

Discipline: Chemical Technology

  • Colloid Science
  • Minerals Processing.
  • Physical and Colloid Chemistry
  • Surface Chemistry
  • Chemistry
  • Chemical Technology

Community Service

Organisation Name:   National ICT Australia
Section:   Research Evaluation Committee
Level of involvement:    Member
Year from:   2012
Year to:   2017

Organisation Name:   University College London
Section:   Australia
Level of involvement:    Advisory Board Member
Year from:   2015
Year to:   2018

Organisation Name:   Australian Academy of Science
Section:   Selby Travelling Fellowship Awards Committee
Level of involvement:    Member
Year from:   2012
Year to:   2017

Organisation Name:   Universities in Canada, Japan, Namibia and Europe
Level of involvement:    Consultant / collaborator
Year from:   2013
Year to:   2018

Research Degree Supervisor

Emeritus Laureate Professor of Physical Chemistry and Minerals Processing

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