John A.S. Smith, 1927-2013

An international expert on nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) has died

June 6, 2013

John Alec Sydney Smith was born in Nottingham on 7 August 19 and won a scholarship to study at Nottingham High School.

This was followed by a further scholarship, to read chemistry at Lincoln College, Oxford. He graduated with a first in 1948 and went on to a DPhil under the supervision of Sir Rex Richards.

As Sir Rex’s first research student, he had the opportunity to work and publish on some of the pioneering European experiments applying nuclear magnetic resonance to chemical systems in a solid state. His work on crystal hydrates led in 1951 to a job in the crystallography unit at the University of Leeds’ School of Chemistry, where Sir Ernest Gordon Cox was working to foster the development of NMR techniques.

This proved a congenial environment and Professor Smith was soon heading a major NMR group, whose activities included the construction of a high- resolution instrument, while also taking over the analysis of the benzene crystal structure that Sir Ernest had put aside in 1932.

In 1965, he accepted a position as reader in the School of Molecular Sciences at the new University of Warwick. He joined forces with a research student, David Tong, to invent a nuclear resonance spectrometer, which would be manufactured by Decca Radar Instruments. And he became an acknowledged authority on the role of nuclear quadrupole resonance (NQR) in studying solids.

From Warwick, Professor Smith moved on in 1971 to a chair in chemistry at Queen Elizabeth College, University of London, before joining King’s College London when the two colleges merged.

He established an active NQR group at King’s and developed a particular interest in using NQR spectroscopy to detect explosives and narcotics, and to intercept counterfeit pharmaceuticals through quality control techniques at every stage of their manufacture.

Peter Sadler, professor of chemistry at the University of Warwick, described Professor Smith as an “old-school” scientist who built his own instruments, rather than buying them off the shelf.

He was also, Professor Sadler added, always modest about his achievements, despite being “a leading national figure with a very strong international reputation” whose “expertise was so unique and so valued one could have worked profitably with him even in his eighties”.

Professor Smith remained an active researcher and emeritus professor right up to the end of his life. He died of a sudden myocardial infarction on 25 April 2013 and is survived by his wife and daughter.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

United Nations peace keeper

Understanding the unwritten rules of graduate study is vital if you want to get the most from your PhD supervision, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration (5 January 2017)

Fixing problems in the academic job market by reducing the number of PhDs would homogenise the sector, argues Tom Cutterham

Houses of Parliament, Westminster, government

There really is no need for the Higher Education and Research Bill, says Anne Sheppard

poi, circus

Kate Riegle van West had to battle to bring her circus life and her academic life together

man with frozen beard, Lake Louise, Canada

Australia also makes gains in list of most attractive English-speaking nations as US slips