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Unifying chemistry departments at Leeds University


Sorting out the tripartite heads of chemistry
Norman Greenwood Scientist
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On the lecturing, there was, of course... well, I should also perhaps say that like Newcastle, Leeds had a tri-partite arrangement of three departments: inorganic and structural, physical, and organic. But there was a difference. Whereas in Newcastle the department was one department of chemistry, in Leeds each of the three departments was an independent department. The head of department had a seat on Senate, had all the perquisites of a head of department, and the three heads, between them, formed the School of Chemistry, and if there were things like services, technicians, lab space and so forth that could affect or impact more than one department, the three heads met. But it was three heads of independent departments.

Now that works if the three heads get on. It doesn’t work so well if they don’t. And it’s probably common knowledge that Harry Irving and Fred Dainton and Basil Lythgoe did not always agree eye-to-eye with things. And that was a limiting factor. And unbeknown to me, I had been brought in not only because I could do some good chemistry, but apparently people had judged that I might be a person who could meld this together into a good working relationship again.

And I can well remember the Registrar coming to me several months after my appointment, when I was down there saying, ‘What’s wrong with chemistry? You haven’t had a row yet’. And I said, ‘You’re not likely to hear one if we have got one, because it’ll be in-house’.

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.

Listeners: Brian Johnson

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.

Tags: Leeds University, Newcastle University, Harry Irving, Fred Dainton, Basil Lythgoe

Duration: 2 minutes, 12 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2011

Date story went live: 25 November 2011