Professor of Physical Chemistry, University of Glasglow
What is your background? What made you decide to become a scientist?
After leaving School at 16, I trained to be a laboratory technician in a paint factory before taking up a position as an Experimental Assistant in the Polythene Research Section of ICI’s Plastics Division. There I received an excellent grounding in experimental physical chemistry. As ICI subsequently decided to close research operations at my site, I elected to go to university. I had three wonderful years studying for a degree in Chemical Sciences at the University of East Anglia (UEA). I then remained at UEA to do a Ph.D. in Chemical Physics with Professor Mike Chesters as my supervisor. This was a truly up-lifting and rewarding experience in a great environment working with super people. Neh bad! After challenging but enlightening postdoctoral positions at the University of Texas (Austin) and the University of Western Australia (Perth), I returned to the UK for a further research stint at UEA. That latter period involved, firstly, the application of solid state NMR to investigate adsorption on supported metal catalysts and, secondly, investigations in adsorbate photochemistry. In 1996 I moved to the University of Glasgow to take up an ICI Lectureship in Heterogeneous Catalysis. Remaining at Glasgow, I am now a Professor of Physical Chemistry, where I head the School of Chemistry’s Heterogeneous Catalysis Section.
I never consciously intended to become a scientist; it just happened! On reflection, I guess I just took the line of least resistance. Early on, I realised that I was totally useless as a construction worker on building sites!
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful scientist? Why?
I can think of two: persistence and a tough skin.
Why? It’s not an easy gig!
What is your favourite part of being a scientist?
The freedom to follow up on medium-range scientific problems and challenges that one is sincerely interested in.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
The education I received at the University of East Anglia was top-grade. I must also celebrate the wisdom, knowledge, patience and humour of my Ph.D. supervisor who, for me, ‘set the tone’ for how to conduct research in the chemical sciences. I also celebrate my involvement with ICI; an organisation that had vision and depth.
What are you working on next (e.g. your UK Catalysis Hub project)?
The UK Catalysis Hub has done a great job hosting and fostering two Industrial CASE Ph.D. students (Andrea Zachariou and Alex Hawkins) that I run in collaboration with ISIS (Stewart Parker) and Johnson Matthey (JM). Russell Howe (Aberdeen) has additionally ensured that we target the right problems and design our experiments accordingly. Both projects involve the application of neutron scattering techniques to probe adsorption and reaction phenomena in selected zeolites. I am presently in discussions with ISIS and JM about new directions that are now accessible thanks to Andrea and Alexs’ significant endeavours.
Any collaboration opportunities you would like through the greater community?
I am rewarded in working with industrial partners to investigate aspects of interfacial chemistry of mutual interest and connectivity.