This website has been archived and is no longer updated.

The content featured is no longer current and is being made available to the general public for research and historical information purposes only.
About Students and teacherslinks and references Australia Innovates
A century of innovationThe Innovation cycleThe innovation game
The best of the century What is innovation? Overview Timeline Test your AIQ
Flame Ionisation Detector
scientific instrument for chemical analysis

Suppose you wanted to analyse the chemicals within a sample, for example, drugs in the blood or urine of an Olympic athlete. You'd use a gas chromatograph (GC), an instrument that separates the chemicals within a sample when it is injected into gas flowing through a tube.

An Australian innovation called the flame ionisation detector (FID) is built into the GC. The FID enables chemists to identify the type and quantity of chemicals separated in the GC.

The FID was invented by Ian McWilliam and Bob Dewar at ICI in Melbourne. It's invaluable for medical diagnosis, food analysis and measuring air pollutants. In fact without FID's we couldn't detect many environmental and health hazards.

ICI patented the FID and made a few for their own use, then licensed 37 overseas companies to make them.

Who Did It?
Key Organisations
ICI Australia Limited : R&D, design, manufacture
Key People
Ian McWilliam : researcher
Bob Dewar : research team leader

Further Reading
Research to reality
M Southern (ed)
AIRG, Melbourne, 1980, p 20-21.

Technology in Australia 1788-1988, ATSE
Explanation of how a FID works
Orica (formerly ICI Australia)

Related Innovations
Atomic Absorption Spectrometer

A researcher demonstrating the Flame Ionisation Detector. Courtesy ICI Australia Ltd.
ATSE Powerhouse Museum