Harry Greenwood and Keele’s Computational Chemistry past

Dr Harry Greenwood, former director of Keele’s Computer Centre, died just over 15 months ago, on 10 August 2013, aged 92. At the time this led me to think about Harry’s role in Computational Chemistry at Keele, that being the area he did his PhD research in. I started writing this post shortly after I learned of his death, but had to set it aside due to many other demands on my time. I have recently been inspired to complete it by my preparation of some new lectures on Quantum Chemistry, and particularly the development of a molecular orbital exercise for the students taking these lectures.

Harry was Director of Keele’s Computer Centre between 1967-1987. I arrived at Keele in 1986 as a member of Richard Catlow’s group, and so I briefly overlapped with Harry’s tenure. As a computational based group, we made considerable demands on the computing infrastructure at Keele, and we appreciated the help of Harry, and of his successor, Colin Silk, in those early years.

Harry did his PhD at King’s College London, with Charles Coulson in the area of Valence Theory, which Coulson made such an impact in. Amongst Coulson’s other students were Roy McWeeny, who was later an academic member of staff at Keele (more on him later), and Alan Lidiard, who was the PhD supervisor of my postdoc supervisor at Keele, Richard Catlow. Incidentally, Coulson died in 1974, shortly before he was due to examine Richard’s thesis.

Harry’s scientific ‘brother’, Roy McWeeny, did his doctorate with Coulson while he was in his first period at Oxford (before King’s). In the preface to his Third Edition of Coulson’s great book, Valence, McWeeny mentions that this was in the years 1946-8. Coulson was at King’s between 1947-52, and Harry’s PhD must have been during this time. McWeeny was at Keele between 1957-65. I have not been able to establish whether McWeeny and Greenwood were at Keele at the same time, but if they were, it is quite significant that two of Coulson’s students were at Keele concurrently!

There is another intriguing Keele connection, in that Coulson’s PhD supervisor at Cambridge was Sir John Lennard-Jones, who was the second Principal of the University College of North Staffordshire, (which became Keele University), between 1953-4.

Finally, John Pople, a scientific brother of Coulson, was responsible for the Gaussian program, which is a widely used computational chemistry code. I’ll be using Gaussian next week, and the students will use this modern code to repeat Coulson’s calculations on molecular hydrogen from 1937.

Returning to Harry Greenwood, he was part of Coulson’s (and ultimately Lennard-Jones’s) scientific dynasty. I am very aware of this as I try to teach the subject that they developed. It is certainly inspirational!

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