Richard Pike, 1950-2011

August 11, 2011

Whether it was decrying "Mickey Mouse" degrees or rubbishing the oil industry's estimates on remaining petroleum reserves, Richard Pike was not afraid to speak his mind as chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Born in 1950, Dr Pike received sponsorship from the energy company British Petroleum to study for his undergraduate degree in engineering at the University of Cambridge. He graduated with first-class honours in 1971 and continued his studies in engineering at Cambridge, receiving a doctorate in 1977 for his work on experimental and theoretical aspects of vapour bubble dynamics in boiling liquids.

While still engaged in his doctoral research, he began to work for BP, the start of a professional association that was to last 25 years. Dr Pike's last role with the company was in Japan, where he was general manager, Chemicals BP Far East, as well as president, BP Chemicals Japan, and director, Samsung-BP Chemicals South Korea.

He returned to the UK in 1993 and took up a post as director general of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

In 1998 he became operations manager for Cambridge Management Consulting. After two years there, he moved to the petroleum consulting company Gaffney, Cline and Associates, where he was a senior associate.

In 2006 Dr Pike joined the Royal Society of Chemistry as its chief executive. On taking up the role, he said he looked forward to ensuring that the organisation continued to champion "the vital role that the chemical sciences and those who practise them play in the future prosperity and well-being of the population, economy and environment".

One of his best-known initiatives was the "Five Decade Challenge", for which GCSE students took exams with questions from papers from the 1960s to the present day. He argued that the results, which showed that students performed worse on older questions, were due to the national science curriculum's focus on "hoop-jumping" rather than on the development of students' problem-solving abilities.

Asked about Dr Pike's approach to life, Brian Emsley, media relations manager at the Royal Society of Chemistry, recalled his achievement in becoming the first person to swim between Britain's two most northerly islands for charity. "He was always very keen to take on challenges," he said. "He was very friendly, very avuncular, very upbeat. He didn't lose any of that after becoming ill."

Mr Emsley added that Dr Pike was passionate about chemistry. "Not everyone agreed with what he said, but everyone acknowledged his ability to understand how journalists thought," he said. "He was never short of a quote and he wasn't a man who believed in 'no comment'."

Dr Pike died of cancer on 23 July 2011. He is survived by his wife, Fiona, and three children.

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