Aileen Smith, 1953-2009

January 21, 2010

A leading expert on plant physiology, known as "Aunty Aileen" on campus because of her sympathetic treatment of students facing difficulties, has died.

Aileen Smith was born in Glasgow on 8 August 1953 and educated on the south side of the city, at Netherlee Primary School and Eastwood High School, before taking a degree in biological sciences at the University of Glasgow.

She continued her studies with a masters at what was then the University of Natal, and later completed a PhD at the National Vegetable Research Station near Warwick.

This led to her appointment as an Agricultural and Food Research Council postdoctoral fellow at Aberystwyth University, which remained her base for the rest of her life.

In 1983, she was appointed lecturer in the department of botany and microbiology and became co-leader of a group researching plant stress physiology and transduction - the transfer of DNA between bacteria.

This resulted in a volume on Mechanisms of Plant Perception and Response to Environmental Stimuli (1990), co-edited with her PhD supervisor Tudor H. Thomas.

It also led to her involvement in a number of major European and international research programmes with significant practical implications.

Among them was the Egyptian-Norwegian tomato project, which investigated the use of natural resources in Egypt by tomato farmers, the implications of seasonal changes in the climate and the use of plasticulture to grow tomatoes during winter.

In 1994, Dr Smith was made senior lecturer at Aberystwyth's Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences. Later years marked a shift in her research interests, as she pioneered new approaches to the study of plant metabolomics (chemical fingerprinting).

Along with her contributions to science, Dr Smith was active in her local community of Borth, a keen participant in university drama productions, a role model for aspiring female researchers and a notably committed teacher.

Students always knew that Aunty Aileen was someone they could turn to for advice on problems related to either their studies or their private lives.

Dylan Gwynn-Jones, senior lecturer in ecology at Aberystwyth, described Dr Smith as "a very gregarious individual who always had a smile on her face and would bring the best out in people, helping students and others develop their confidence.

"She was a firm believer in experiential learning and fieldwork. Over 25 years she travelled annually to northern Spain to deliver a field-ecology course on Alpine flora. Students returned tanned and tired, but uplifted and motivated by the experience."

Dr Smith died of cancer on 11 December 2009.

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