In the news

August 18, 2000

David King returned home to Cambridge this week after spending a fortnight's holiday considering whether he wants to succeed Sir Robert May as the government's chief scientific adviser.

While few outside the city or the field of chemistry will know much about him, the government's selection board has identified qualities in the 61-year-old chemist that have made him favourite for the post.

For the head of one of the foremost scientific institutions in the country - the University of Cambridge's department of chemistry - and master of Downing College, it is a tough decision.

He was born in Durban, South Africa, and educated at St John's College and the University of the Wi****ersrand, both in Johannesburg. He completed his studies at the University of East Anglia, where he became a lecturer, before accepting a chair at the University of Liverpool. He was active in the Association of University Teachers, on its national executive for much of the 1970s and elected president in 1976.

King moved to Cambridge in 1988 to become professor of physical chemistry. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1991 and rose to head his department in 1993. His research into catalysis has broken new ground and his department is an acknowledged world leader, attracting top talent and large sums in industrial sponsorship. When the Unilever Molecular Sciences Informatics Centre opens in Cambridge in October, it will be in no small part down to his skilful leadership.

An approachable man, he is nonetheless ready to buck convention if need be. He was outspoken about the state of decay in his department, before landing generous funding from the Joint Infrastructure Fund.

A passionate lover of art as well as science, he has commissioned a modern artist to repaint rooms in Downing College in bold colours.

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