Old white man of the day

Colin Murdoch, inventor – Timaru Herald Photographs, Personalities Collection


Colin Murdoch, the Timaru inventor who would awaken from dreams at night with three dimensional drawings revolving through his imagination. Pieces would be added and removed: a mental version of CAD. He would then get up and go to the kitchen table, working with pencil and ruler until he had his idea on paper. Colin Murdoch’s dreams, designs and sketches would become inventions used in every corner of the world.

He wanted to design a more effective vaccinator for animals and, in doing so, designed and invented the disposable syringe: a device that has saved millions of human lives. Sufferers of diabeties depend on Murdoch’s invention every day to administer their dose of insulin safely. He also conceived and developed the tranquilliser dart gun, which has saved the lives of millions of animals.

Early disposable syringe prototype

Colin Murdoch is an understated New Zealander with the ability to see possible solutions rather than insurmountable problems. He can claim to have revolutionised medical and veterinary science. It was Murdoch’s incredible creative and scientific mental dexterity combined with New Zealand’s post-War environment that led to his amazing list of achievements. It was an environment with few traditions, boundaries or regulations; an environment where innovation and creativity were necessary to combat the closed post-War economy and harsh natural conditions.

Colin Murdoch was born in Christchurch in 1929. He was ambidextrous and dyslexic; the latter made school a struggle, but he outgrew the condition in later life.

Despite the problems he faced in the schoolroom, Murdoch had a natural aptitude for chemistry as well as displaying technical and mechanical skills, even if his inventions at the time were the sorts of things a mother may dread, such as his early, successful, attempt at making gunpowder.[…]

Invention of the Disposable Syringe

The idea came to Murdoch while he was in his mid-20s during a DC3 flight between the North and South Islands: a disposable, pre-filled vaccination syringe. He was 27, in 1956, when he took out his first patent.

Over the next 15 years Murdoch invented numerous permutations of the disposable syringe: disposable sterile pre-filled hypodermic syringes, prepared ampoule-type moulded plastic syringe darts, disposable automatic vaccinator syringes, sterile self-filling syringes for blood samples, variable dose vaccinator syringes and wet and dry disposable syringes. All quite different, but all breakthroughs in the area of medicine delivery.

Prior to manufacture, Murdoch suggested his idea to officials at the New Zealand Health Department and other government organisations. All said the syringes were too futuristic, the need for them too remote. Yet the need for them was absolutely there: ever since penicillin had come into common use, doctors had found that the antibiotic crystals that formed in glass syringes had made sterilisation difficult or almost impossible. As the use of antibiotics increased, the advantages of disposable syringes grew. […]

Now over half a billion syringes are used every year in the US alone.

The Tranquilliser Gun

There are more parts to Murdoch’s lasting legacy. His ability with chemistry and veterinary science combined with his love of hunting and the outdoors led to the development of the tranquilliser gun.

Tranquillizer pistol Mk12 showing velocity control and syringe

Murdoch developed a syringe gun in the 1950s. He designed a small valve that controlled compressed gas in the chamber. The valve let the shooter control, to a greater level of precision as the weapon was gradually perfected, the velocity of the tranquilliser dart. This advantage, plus the fact that the gun was extremely quiet, meant far less stress on the targeted animals.

Field carrying case for Mk10 Paxarms pistol and selection of syringe projectiles

When Murdoch first started testing his gun the only tranquilliser drugs available were Curare, distilled from a recipe invented by Amazon Indians, and the alkaloids of nicotine, both caused fatal reactions in a high percentage of animals shot. Working in co-operation with the world’s major pharmaceutical companies, he helped develop more sophisticated drugs with precise and safe reactions. […] End of quote.

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WH is a pale, stale, male who does not believe all the doom and gloom climate nonsense so enjoys generating CO2 that the plants need to grow by driving his MG.

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