Regius Chair of Chemistry 200th Anniversary Celebration

School of Chemistry, University of Glasgow, 25-26 September 2017

The University of Glasgow Celebrates the 200th Anniversary of the Regius Chair of Chemistry

This year, the University of Glasgow celebrates the 200th anniversary of the Regius Chair of Chemistry. In recognition of this milestone the current occupant of the chair, Prof Lee Cronin, will host a symposium for invited delegates, featuring talks by some of today's most innovative and cutting edge scientists.

The Regius Chair of Chemistry, one of 13 Regius Chairs at the University of Glasgow, was founded in 1817 by King George III. Its first occupant, Thomas Thomson, was appointed in 1818, and there have been 12 occupants to date. The current occupant is Prof Leroy (Lee) Cronin, who was appointed to the chair in 2013.

The event will take place on the 25th and 26th September, in the School of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow.

Below, you can find some information on the current and former occupants of the Regius Chair of Chemistry. The text for most of the biographies originates from the University of Glasgow Story, which is an excellent resource for exploring the history of the alumni and staff of the University.

Thomas Thomson - 1818

Thomas Thomson (1773-1852) was Regius Professor of Chemistry at the University from 1818 to 1852. He was a pioneer in emphasising the importance of laboratory work in teaching his subject and has been called "the first teacher of practical chemistry in a British university."

Born in Crieff, Thomson studied at the University of St Andrews and graduated MD from the University of Edinburgh in 1799. He became a private teacher of Chemistry in Edinburgh, as well as working as a consultant with the Scottish Excise Board for which organisation he invented a new saccharometer. He moved to London in 1811, but returned to Scotland in 1817 as a lecturer in Chemistry at the University. He was appointed Regius Professor a few months later, in 1818. He continued in the post until his death, although all his teaching duties from 1846 were undertaken by his nephew Robert Dundas Thomson.

Thomas Anderson - 1852

Thomas Anderson (1819-1874) was Professor of Chemistry at the University from 1852 until his death in 1874.

Born in Leith, the grandson of a founder member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Anderson studied at the University of Edinburgh and graduated MD in 1841. He continued his studies in Organic Chemistry in Sweden, Germany and Austria before returning to Scotland to work as a teacher of Chemistry and, from 1848, Chemist to the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland.

Anderson's research into the properties of soils, manures and fertilisers, and his studies of decomposition, led him into research on sewage disposal, and he wrote an influential paper on sewage disposal in Glasgow with Joseph Bazalgette. He helped the University's Professor of Surgery, Joseph Lister, to develop his system of antiseptic surgery by advising him on the germ theories of Louis Pasteur and the antiseptic properties of carbolic acid.

Among his professional offices, Anderson was an editor of the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, President of the Glasgow Philosophical Society (in 1859), and President of the Chemical Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1867. His most influential publications included "The Crystalline Constituents of Opium" (published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1853) and "The Products of the Destructive Distillation of Animal Substances", published in that journal in 1868. His Elements of Agricultural Chemistry (1860) was a highly respected textbook. Thomas Anderson was awarded a LLD in 1874 by the University of Glasgow.

John Ferguson - 1874

John [nicknamed "Soda"] Ferguson (1838-1916) was a University of Glasgow graduate who was Regius Professor of Chemistry from 1874 to 1915.

Born in Alloa, the young Ferguson and his family moved to Glasgow where he was educated at the city's Old High School. He first matriculated to study at the University in 1855 and graduated BA in 1861 and MA with honours in 1862.

Having developed an interest in science, upon graduating he worked with Professor William Thomson on research into electric telegraph cables. He returned to the University in 1863 to study Chemistry within the Medical Faculty and became an assistant to Professor Thomas Anderson. In 1869 he took on the responsibility of running the Chemistry Department and was instrumental in overseeing the transfer of the Chemistry Department to the University's new Gilmorehill Campus in 1870. Shortly after this, in 1874, he became the Regius Professor of Chemistry.

Ferguson was also President of the Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow and the Glasgow Archaeological Society. Here the featured photograph of Ferguson shows him dressed in the uniform of the Royal Company of Archers, a ceremonial unit which served as the Sovereign's bodyguard in Scotland.

Ferguson devoted much of his working life to researching and writing about the history of Science. His most famous work is the Biblioteca Chemica (1906), a bibliography of writers on alchemy and chemistry. During his lifetime he amassed a large personal library of around 18,000 volumes, the larger part of which was acquired for the University Library in 1921 and named the Ferguson Collection.

The main strengths of his collection lie in alchemy, chemistry and related topics such as books of secrets, with important offshoots into the occult sciences and witchcraft, Cabbalism, Rosicrucianism, Free Masonry and Gypsy literature.

The collection includes 118 incunabula and 317 manuscripts - almost all of the latter are of alchemical interest and several date back to the 15th century. Ferguson's own extensive bibliographical notes and papers accompany his alchemical and related books.

George Henderson - 1919

George Gerald Henderson (1862-1942) was Regius Professor of Chemistry, 1919 to 1937. He was Dean of the Faculty of Science from 1920 to 1923, an Assessor on the University Court, and was awarded an LLD in 1938.

Born in Glasgow, Henderson graduated from the University with first class honours in Chemistry (1881) and MA (1884) and continued his studies in Chemistry in Leipzig. In 1889 he was appointed head of the Chemistry Department at Queen Margaret College in Glasgow and he graduated DSc from the University in 1890. In 1892 he was appointed Professor of Chemistry at the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College.

Henderson was an authority on the chemistry of terpene hydrocarbons, sesquiterpene chemistry and the chemistry of india rubber, balata, and gutta-percha. He was President of the Society of Chemical Industry (in 1914), of the Institute of Chemistry (1924-1927) and the Chemical Society (1931).

George Barger - 1937

George Barger (1878-1939) was Regius Professor of Chemistry from the end of 1937 until his death in January 1939.

The son of a Dutch engineer, Barger was educated in Utrecht before matriculating to study at University College, London in 1896. In 1898 he went to King's College, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1901 with a first class in Chemistry and Botany. He worked briefly in Brussels as a demonstrator in Botany, and in 1903 became a member of staff at the Wellcome Physiological Research Laboratories. In 1909 he was appointed head of the Department of Chemistry at Goldsmith's College and in 1913 he became Professor of Chemistry at Royal Holloway College.

Barger worked on the staff of the Medical Research Committee from 1914 to 1919 and he was then Professor of Chemistry at Edinburgh until his appointment to the Regius Chair in Glasgow. His main research interests were in alkaloid chemistry and the study of nitrogenous compounds of biological importance, and his achievements were recognised in a number of awards including that of the Davy Medal in 1938.

Sir James Wilfred Cook - 1939

Sir James Wilfred Cook (1900-1975) was Regius Professor of Chemistry at the University, 1939 to 1955, and Director of the Chemical Laboratories.

Cook studied at University College, London and was a lecturer in Organic Chemistry at The Sir John Cass Technical Institute from 1920 to 1928. He worked as a research chemist at the Royal Cancer Hospital from 1929 to 1939 and he was a Reader in Pathological Chemistry at University of London from 1932 and, from 1935, the Professor of Chemistry there. During his time in Glasgow, he continued his cancer research and collaborated with members of his staff on research into alkaloid colchicine and troplones.

In 1954, Cook left Glasgow to become Principal of University College of the South West, Exeter and then Vice-Chancellor of the newly-created University. He was knighted in 1963 and was Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Africa from 1966 to 1970.

Cook was in great demand to sit on government committees, including the Committee on the Cost of the National Health Service, 1953-1956, and the Advisory Committee on Pesticides and other Toxic Chemicals, 1962-1966. Among other offices, he was President of the Royal Institute of Chemistry from 1949 to 1951.

Sir Derek Barton - 1955

Sir Derek Harold Richard Barton (1918-1998) was Regius Professor of Chemistry at the University, 1955 to 1957. He won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1969.

Born in Gravesend, Barton studied at Imperial College, London and graduated BSc with honours (1940). During the Second World War he worked on a research fellowship from the Distillers Co Ltd studying the synthesis of vinyl chloride (he was awarded a PhD in 1942) and then in military intelligence. In 1945 he returned to Imperial College as a lecturer; he worked with ICI from 1946 until 1949 (the year he was awarded a DSc), and he was a Reader and then Professor of Organic Chemistry at Birbeck College, from 1950 until his appointment to the Chair at Glasgow. During 1949 he was a visiting professor at Harvard University, where he began his ground-breaking work on conformational analysis.

Barton spent only two years at the University before returning south to become Professor of Organic Chemistry at Imperial College. However, he collaborated at Glasgow with Monteath Robertson, the Gardiner Professor of Chemistry, on important research into structural problems involving clerodin, limonin, and the sesquiterpene carophyllene, and he also began the research into organic photochemistry which resulted in the development of a photochemical procedure which became known as Barton's Reaction.

In 1969 Barton and the Norwegian chemist Odd Hassel were awarded the Nobel Prize for their contributions to the development of the concept of conformation and its application in Chemistry. Barton was knighted three years later and received the Légion d'Honneur. After working for many years in France he moved to the Texas A and M University in 1985, where he died in 1998.

Ralph Raphael - 1957

Ralph Alexander Raphael (1921-1998) was Regius Professor of Chemistry at the University from 1957 until 1972.

Born in Croydon, to moderately orthodox Jewish parents of Polish descent, Raphael studied Chemistry at Imperial College London on a war-time, two-year course and graduated with first class honours. He was awarded a PhD after a further two years of research into the chemistry of acetylenes. In 1943 he began work with May & Baker on research into penicillin, and in 1946 returned to Imperial College as an ICI Research Fellow.

In 1948, Raphael was awarded the Meldola Medal by the Royal Institute of Chemistry for his work on the application of acetylenes in organic synthesis, and he went to Glasgow as a lecturer the following year. In 1954 he was appointed the first Professor of Organic Chemistry at Queen's University, Belfast, but returned to Glasgow three years later to fill the Regius Chair.

During his time at Glasgow, Raphael continued his pioneering research in Synthetic Chemistry and, among many awards, he won the Davy Medal in 1981 for his "distinguished contributions to organic synthesis and in particular his ingenious applications of acetylenic intermediates". In 1972 he was appointed the 1702 Professor of Organic Chemistry at Cambridge. He was appointed CBE in 1982.

Gordon Kirby - 1972

Gordon Kirby was born on June 20, 1934 in Wallasey, Cheshire, England. He got his Bachelor of Science at Cambridge University in 1955 followed by Doctor of Philosophy, also from Cambridge in 1958. After his PhD he became the 1851 exhibition senior student at Imperial College, London from 1958-1960, then assistant lecturer between 1960-1961 and lecturer 1961-1967. In 1967 he became Professor of organic chemistry at Loughborough University of Technology. In 1972 he was appointed to the Regius Professor of Chemistry chemistry at the University Glasgow. He won the Schuldham Plate postgraduate prize Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, in 1956. In 1974 he won the Royal Society of Chemistry Corday-Morgan medal and prize in 1969. In 1974 he won the Royal Society of Chemistry Tilden lectureship and medal. He was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1975. Kirby was an organic chemist and his research focussed on the reactivity and characterisation of electrophilic C-Nitroso-compounds as well as natural product chemistry.

Philip Kocienski - 1997

Philip J. Kocienski was born in Troy, New York, in 1946. His love for organic chemistry, amply stimulated by Alfred Viola whilst an undergraduate at Northeastern University, was further developed at Brown University, where he obtained his PhD degree in 1971 under Joseph Ciabattoni. Postdoctoral study with George Büchi at MIT and later with Basil Lythgoe at Leeds University, England, confirmed his interest in the synthesis of natural products. He was appointed Brotherton Research lecturer at Leeds in 1979 and Professor of Chemistry at Southampton University in 1985. In 1990 he was appointed Glaxo Professor of Chemistry at Southampton University. He moved to the University of Glasgow in 1997, where he was Regius Professor of Chemistry. In 2010 he returned to Leeds as Professor and Head of Department of Organic Chemistry and is now an Professor Emeritus there. Kocienski has made contributions to the design and development of new organometallic reagents in synthesis, and the applications of synthetic methods to complex natural products. His total synthesis of the insect toxin pederin, and his synthetic work toward the immunosuppressant FK 506, have made him regarded as one of the leading organic chemists in the field. In 1984 he won the Hickinbottom Fellowship of the Royal Society of Chemistry and in 1997 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Charles (Chick) Wilson - 2003

After gaining his PhD in Physics from the University of Dundee (following a Chemical Physics degree from Glasgow), in 1985 Chick joined the then SERC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire as Deputy Instrument Scientist for the SXD instrument on the ISIS spallation neutron source (initially known as the SNS). He rose through the ranks at ISIS, to Instrument Scientist, Deputy Group Leader and then Head of the Crystallography Group, as ISIS and RAL sequentially became part of EPSRC, DRAL and CCLRC. Chick accepted the Regius Chair in Chemistry at the University of Glasgow in 2003, initially on a joint appointment with CCLRC, retaining his responsibilities there. This rapidly evolved into a full time position in Glasgow, and Chick formally left CCLRC in 2004, after 19 years at RAL. His links with the neutron community remain strong, with an Associate Scientist position at CCLRC, extensive scientific programmes at ISIS and ILL Grenoble, and an Adjunct Professor position in Chemistry at the University of Tennesse, Knoxville, close to the new US Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He was the deputy chair (2007-2008) and then chair (2008-2009) of the STFC Physical and Life Sciences Committee. In 2010 he left Glasgow to join the University of Bath as a Professor in Physical Chemistry.

Lee Cronin - 2013

Leroy (Lee) Cronin FRSE was born in the UK in 1973. He received a PhD in bio-inorganic chemistry from the University of York in 1997, before taking up positions as a Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh in 1997, Alexander von Humboldt research fellow at the University of Bielefeld in 1999, and Lecturer at the University of Birmingham in 2000. He first came to the University of Glasgow as a Reader in 2002, before being appointed as a Professor in 2006. He was appointed to the Gardiner Chair of Chemistry at the University in 2009, and then to the Regius Chair in 2013. He has been the recipient of many awards including RSC Tilden Prize (2015), BP/RSE Hutton Prize (2013), RSC Corday Morgan (2012) and a Wolfson Royal Society Merit Award (2009). He was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2009, and was named as an EPSRC RISE leader in 2014.

The focus of Cronin’s work is understanding complexity in chemistry. By understanding complexity, the aim is to design functional molecular and nano-molecular chemical systems that link architectural design with function and, recently, engineering system-level functions (e.g. coupled catalytic self-assembly, emergence of inorganic materials and fabrication of inorganic cells that allow complex cooperative behaviours). The expertise in the Cronin group is unique, bringing together experts in synthetic chemistry, chemical engineering, flow chemistry, digital chemistry, complex system modelling, evolutionary theory, algorithms, robotics and AI. Key topics include making inorganic life in the lab, the digitization of chemistry, and development of wet chemical computers.