Robert (Bob) Thaine, Dip.Agric (C.A.C.), M.S.A. (Saskatchewan), Ph.D., (Melbourne).
Robert Thaine came to Lincoln College as a farm cadet in 1942, worked as a labourer on the College farm two years and following the plan then in operation, entered the Diploma course and qualified with the Diploma of Agriculture in 1945. For a short time he was in the Department of Agriculture in his home town, Blenheim. He had become imbued with a desire to study at a higher level and having made his way to Canada in 1948 he found opportunity there to complete first the B.S.A, then the M.S.A of the University of Saskatchewan. His thesis work on clipping frequency and root development of grasses was published in the Canadian J .Agric.
Science 34, 299-304, 1954. He visited Britain and Australia before returning briefly to New Zealand in 1953, by which time he had received assistance to enter a Ph.D. course in the Botany Department, University of Melbourne.
In early 1957 he and his wife and child went to England. He was assisted by several benefactions and after an examination by Professor Maskell, Cambridge University, the Melbourne Ph.D. was awarded in 1957. He had now become known for his arresting work on the physiological phenomena of translocation in plants. The University of Leeds granted him research facilities and the Nuffield Foundation a fund which eased his personal financial position that had been acutely difficult. He and his small family lived in a cottage in Surrey and his work was continued there. He was able to talk on his theories at University meetings and further scientific papers were published as in Nature 173, 1954; Australian Jour.BioLSci. 8, 1955; Australian Jour.Biol.Sci. 12, 1959.
With the publication, however, of his paper "A translocation hypothesis based on the structure of plant cytoplasm", Journ. Experimental Botany (Oxford Univ.) 13, 152-160, 1962, Dr. Thaine made what is world-regarded as a major break-through in knowledge of how sugars are manufactured in leaves and transported down the stems to roots of plants. Of this, Dr. T. M.
Morrison has written: " . . . Thaine's work provides a way out of the enigma of sugar transport in plants. He found that there are protoplasmic strands running along the transport pathway and that protoplasm moves from one cell to the next providing a carrier system for sugars . . . there is no doubt that this is the important discovery in this field and the one that provides the break-through that other scientists will certainly follow . ... "
His activity is now based in an A.R.C. unit at Oxford University but he returned to New Zealand at least for a period when he arrived last November to take up a one year fellowship appointment with the D.S.I.R. At present he is engaged on this programme at the Physical Sciences Division, Lower Hutt, where he is attempting to show and to extend by electron microscopy what he has described so far with a light microscope.
The award is made to Dr. Thaine for the merit of his scientific work. He has been a discoverer. In a few words though, tribute is justifiably recorded of the manner in which he has surmounted extraordinary personal hardship. After his two years in Melbourne, and while on a return visit to N.Z. in 1955, he contracted poliomyelitis of acute severity, being in Wairau hospital, Blenheim, twelve months, eight of which were spent in an iron lung. This was followed by another twelve months of convalescence. His case was regarded as hopeless but by his spirit, and sustained and helped throughout by his wife, he progressed to be able to use a wheelchair. He was able to give his wife details of his research and she typed his Doctorate thesis and in so many other ways has supported him throughout. This citation then, as well as acknowledging scientific achievement, serves also as a tribute to a profile of courage.
Dr. and Mrs Thaine were present at the College Graduation ceremony on May 7th and the Medal was presented by the Chairman of the Council, T. D. J. Holderness. (Source: 1965 Lincoln College Magazine, p38-39)