A lifetime in chemistry

30 Oct 2014 10:37:18.783

PA 277/14

An event to mark the centenary of one of The University of Nottingham’s longest serving chemistry professors will include all the elements for a perfect birthday celebration.

A gathering of former colleagues and students, a spectacular candle-topped cake and a programme of talks, being held on Wednesday October 29, will celebrate the work and science of Professor Dan Eley FRS, who dedicated his career to chemistry research and teaching.

The event will also feature the presentation to Professor Eley of a special certificate marking the 50th anniversary of his election to the Royal Society and the unveiling of a Royal Society of Chemistry Chemical Landmark blue plaque.

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Professor Martyn Poliakoff is one of the few remaining members of staff in the University’s School of Chemistry to have been lucky enough to work with Professor Eley before his retirement in 1980 after a 20-year career at Nottingham.

He said: “"Dan remains a wonderful colleague — recently he helped me out with a question on catalysis. We have been celebrating his birthdays for many years. 2014 is the culmination of the countdown!”

Born near Liverpool on October 1 1914, Prof Dan Eley lived in West Bridgford during his early years after his father was appointed by Sir Jesse Boot as the first advertising manager at Boots. The family later moved to London during the 1920s.

Professor Eley studied at Manchester University during the 1930s before doing a PhD at Cambridge University from 1938 to 1945, where he also lectured. His time at Cambridge coincided with World War II, during which he carried out research on explosives problems for the Ministry of Supply and served in the Home Guard. His hair-raising anecdotes of his wartime service later enthralled generations of students.

After the war, he took up a lectureship at Bristol University where he was later promoted to Reader before his appointment as Professor of Physical Chemistry brought him back to Nottingham in 1954. He has lived in the same house in Beeston ever since.

During the course of his career, Professor Eley’s work continued to push the boundaries of our understanding of Chemistry across its three main branches — physical, organic and inorganic, and into biology and physics. At Cambridge he worked with the famous chemist Eric Rideal studying catalysts, which led to the discovery of the Eley-Rideal mechanism for gas-surface reactions which chemists still quote to this day.

He tutored Rosalind Franklin, who later became famous as the ‘dark lady of DNA.’ Professor Eley’s own work on DNA led to him showing for the first time that molecules of DNA could conduct electricity, a property that is important in understanding how DNA can be damaged.

His students were the first to demonstrate that carbon compounds can act as semi-conductors, a scientific breakthrough which eventually led to the colour displays on many of the latest smartphones. His pioneering work was recognised by his election to the Royal Society in 1964, the highest honour for a UK scientist.

His many students remember his engaging and quirky teaching style; indeed one spent a whole year keeping a note of amusing things Professor Eley said during his lectures.

Former students include the late Hiroo Inokuchi, one of Japan’s most eminent molecular science and solid state chemistry professors, and Professor David Needham at the University of Southern Denmark, whose work uses chemistry in the development of new enzymes, peptides and antibodies, as well as new nanoparticles for drugs to kill cancer cells.

In correspondence to Professor Eley in 1981, David Needham wrote: “I have very fond memories of my three years in Nottingham and your inspirational anecdotes of the personalities and events of research past.”

Head of the School of Chemistry, Professor Jonathan Hirst said: “Dan’s vitality and scientific legacy are truly wonderful, and I am delighted that we are recognising his unique contribution.”

The event on Wednesday will feature a programme of talks by academics in the School of Chemistry and former colleagues and students of Professor Eley.

There will also be a birthday cake topped with 100 candles — the School has borrowed a special rig from the University of Newcastle that will allow the candles to be safely simultaneously lit in spectacular style. The rig was last used at Nottingham in 1998 to celebrate the 100th birthday of another Nottingham chemistry stalwart and colleague of Dan Eley, Colonel B D Shaw, renowned for his exciting Explosives Lecture and famous musket experiment.

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with campuses in China and Malaysia modelled on a headquarters that is among the most attractive in Britain’ (Times Good University Guide 2014). It is also the most popular university in the UK among graduate employers, in the top 10 for student experience according to the Times Higher Education and one of the world’s greenest universities

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Martyn Poliakoff in the School of Chemistry, University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115 951 3520, martyn.poliakoff@nottingham.ac.uk; Dr Samantha Tang on +44 (0)115 846 7229, Samantha.tang@nottingham.ac.uk

Emma Thorne Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: emma.thorne@nottingham.ac.uk Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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