My Scientific and Academic Ancestry

This post was inspired by a tweet by  @JessTheChemist and a recent post in her blog, where she considers the topic of who is connected to who, scientifically and academically.

I did my PhD at UCL between 1978-1981  with Stuart Walmsley, a theoretical chemist who was himself a PhD student of  David Craig. Craig was one of the ‘antipodean invasion’ who came to UCL from Australia in the 1940s. Specifically, he was a PhD student at UCL between 1946-49, and then returned to UCL as a Professor of Theoretical Chemistry in 1956, subsequently returning to Australia in 1967. It seems (although this is hard to establish conclusively) that he did his PhD with Christopher Ingold. This  makes my academic great-grandfather an organic chemist, which is interesting!

But I’ve also been thinking about my postdoc connections, and where they lead. And, intriguingly, do they intersect at any point with my PhD connections?

I did 2 of my 3 postdoc contracts with Richard Catlow, whose PhD supervisor was Alan Lidiard. Lidiard’s supervisor was Charles Coulson, of Coulson’s ‘Valence’ textbook fame. Although this is very much a physics rather than a chemistry route, I did manage to find some rather convoluted links between them. For example, Coulson completed his PhD with John Lennard-Jones (which leads to a Keele connection as well), and one of Lennard-Jones’ other PhD students was John Pople. My PhD supervisor, Stuart Walmsley, did postdoctoral research with Pople at the National Physical Laboratory. So there is an indirect connection there! If you define your postdoc supervisor as your scientific ‘uncle’ (or ‘aunt’, as appropriate), this means that my PhD and postdoc supervisors are related, in that (in scientific terms) my father’s uncle was my uncle’s great-grandfather’s son!

The Keele connection is that Lennard-Jones was our second Principal (when Keele University was the University College of North Staffordshire).

As a postscript, I also did a postdoc with Paul Barnes, at Birkbeck College in London, and a future mission will be to track his scientific ancestry and see what interesting connections that brings up!


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