Jack Pridham, 1929-2012

July 12, 2012

A leading plant biochemist who delighted in scientific outreach - and practical jokes - has died.

Jack Pridham was born on May 1929 and educated at Thornbury Grammar School in Gloucestershire, where he proved equally adept at football and science.

He went on to read chemistry at the University of Bristol and stayed on for a PhD on the structure of complex carbohydrates and phenols in plants.

This led to short-term academic work at the University of Edinburgh and then a postdoctoral post at the Institute of Paper Chemistry in Appleton, Wisconsin, where he broadened his research interests to the metabolism of plants, notably the broad bean, Vicia faba.

In 1957, Professor Pridham was appointed a lecturer in chemistry at what was then Royal Holloway College, where he established himself as an internationally renowned plant-carbohydrate biochemist. He was to remain there until his retirement in 1993, having been awarded a DSc in 1967 and appointed to a professorship in 1971, and serving as vice-principal from 1976 to 1979.

Professor Pridham was also responsible for setting up the college's department of biochemistry in 1967, which he led for 23 years. As such he steered the department though Royal Holloway's merger with Bedford College in 1985, which created Royal Holloway, University of London.

A great enthusiast for science outreach, Professor Pridham was always delighted to get involved in debates about hot-button subjects such as genetically modified food, cot deaths and the positioning of mobile phone masts. Even after his retirement, he continued to teach and develop his Chemo-Philia website, which was "dedicated to counteracting misleading information about, and irrational attitudes to, chemicals".

Peter Bramley, professor of biochemistry at Royal Holloway, paid tribute to a man notable for his "passion for his subject, high intellect, drive and ambition", but who "always had time and patience for others...with no pomposity or arrogance at all".

"He also had a mischievous sense of humour," continued Professor Bramley, "and enjoyed writing spoof articles in the college magazine, On Campus, that had sufficient science in them to suggest they might just be true."

For example, he once wrote that the cladding of the institution's International Building contained a wood-eating larva that required urgent treatment with an organophosphorus insecticide - and the evacuation of the campus.

"The panic that ensued among many heads of department and senior management gave Jack great pleasure for weeks afterwards," Professor Bramley recalled.

Professor Pridham died of cancer on 20 May and is survived by his wife Mary and three children.


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