Norman Greenwood (1925-2012) was born in Australia and graduated from Melbourne University before going to Cambridge. His wide-ranging research in inorganic and structural chemistry made major advances in the chemistry of boron hydrides and other main-group element compounds. He also pioneered the application of Mössbauer spectroscopy to problems in chemistry. He was a prolific writer and inspirational lecturer on chemical and educational themes, and held numerous visiting professorships throughout the world.
Not only in chemistry. Being in Cambridge, there are all sorts of notables, and one of the most notable of the notables was Bertrand Russell. He was 77 years old. He had just a year or so earlier been in an air crash; if I remember rightly, when the plane came to land in Copenhagen and landed in the Baltic Sea, he came out and swam half a mile or more to shore in his 70s! But Bertrand Russell was again something, quite a phenomenon. I’d read several of his books as a youngster and admired him, of course, for his non-conventional views.
But he came in, and I can see him now: silver-haired old gent, 77 years old... the lecture hall was the examinations hall, which holds 500 people. It was bursting with people. At five o’clock on the dot he came in. Silver hair, he stood at the lectern and he said in a rasping voice which was very characteristic of him, ‘I hope no one will be misled by the title of my lectures. I have called these lectures Introduction to Philosophy. Perhaps I should have called it Introduction to My Philosophy. I’m not concerned with what used to be called philosophy up till now, but I think that...’
And so he continued. It was just a masterly performance. It was read, of course, and he knew all the tricks of the trade, but he was an amazing person to listen to, and the amount he got through in that hour... he spoke rapidly from notes he’d prepared, and it just flowed off and was very impressive. Now, I went to that with a friend, and I have to say that probably about half of the lecture theatre had disappeared by the end of term, but it was a two-term course, and I and the others that stayed had probably dwindled to about 150 at the end, but that’s still a sizeable lecture theatre and a sizeable number of people. I’m always glad that I went to hear him before he went, dare I say it, into his cranky phase, but he was certainly on the ball then.
Title: Attending the lectures of the Cambridge notables: Bertrand Russell
Professor Brian FG Johnson FRS, FRSE, FRS Chem, FAcad Eu, FAS. Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Edinburgh 1991-1995, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Cambridge 1995-2005, Master Fitzwilliam College Cambridge 1999-2005. Research interests include studies of transition metal carbonyls, organometallic chemistry, nano- particles and homogeneous catalysis. Professor Johnson is the author of over 1000 research articles and papers.
University of Cambridge, Copenhagen, Baltic Sea, Bertrand Russell