Tim Richardson was born in North Ferriby, near Hull, on 5 April 1964. He went to school in York and read physics at Durham University before continuing to a DPhil at the University of Oxford, where he studied the extremely thin but highly structured layers of organic material known as a Langmuir-Blodgett film.
After completing his doctorate in 1989, Dr Richardson worked briefly in industry as a research engineer for Thorn EMI but then returned to the academy two years later when he joined the physics and astronomy department at the University of Sheffield as a lecturer. He was promoted to senior lecturer in 1997 and reader in nanoscience in 2007. He would also serve as a visiting professor at three Malaysian universities and the University of São Paulo in Brazil.
A leading researcher in his field, Dr Richardson specialised in the molecular processes responsible for various observed physical effects in thin organic films - work that had important practical applications in the fields of toxic gas sensing, solar cells and nano-electronics. He eventually published more than 150 papers in scientific journals and supervised 28 PhD students.
As well as his achievements in cutting-edge research, Dr Richardson was a well-liked undergraduate teacher and helped to popularise his subject. In November 2011, he raised more than £8,000 for Children in Need by carrying out a 24-hour lecture marathon for staff, students and local schoolchildren. Talks ranged from demanding topics such as “Porphyrins” to “Big Physics, Little Physics” and “Harry Potter - Science/Fiction?”
David Mowbray, professor of physics at Sheffield, recalled that Dr Richardson’s enthusiasm for practical demonstrations had turned his office into “an Aladdin’s cave of wonderment for visitors”. He had also “inspired Sheffield students for more than 20 years with his sense of fun and ability to explain a wide range of difficult concepts. He brought to his role of first-year physics tutor a very caring and gentle nature, supporting countless students as they made the transition to university life.” Although his lecture marathon remains a fixture in the Sheffield calendar, it now requires “significantly more than one person to cover the 24 hours”.
Diagnosed with terminal cancer in the summer of 2012, Dr Richardson continued to be active and productive. He set up a charity, Inspiration for Life, and described his experiences in a powerful, soon-to-be-published diary titled For When I’m Sleeping, which will be used as a fundraiser for the charity. He died on 5 February and is survived by his wife Sue and their two sons.