Glucose Sensor, Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory, University of Oxford

Chemical Landmark Plaque for the Glucose Sensor, Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory, Department of Chemistry, University of Oxford, Monday 16 July 2012

Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory, University of Oxford

Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory, University of Oxford by Luca Borghi. Image licensed via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

This plaque commemorates the development, starting in the early 1980s, of an enzyme electrode for detecting glucose. The original paper described a ferrocene-mediated electrode for the analysis of glucose which was usable in whole undiluted blood, and had obvious potential for the sensing of sugar levels in diabetic patients. This original work was extended (principally by Hill, Cass and Davis) and later patented, and the resulting electrode system has saved the lives of many diabetic patients by the simple, reliable detection of sugar levels in the blood. Currently less than 1 µl of blood is needed in a painless straightforward procedure which allows patients to monitor their own blood sugar levels.

The unveiling ceremony began with a welcome and introduction by Professor Peter Edwards FRS, the head of inorganic chemistry at Oxford. Allen Hill FRS then reminisced about early work on the electrode leading to the first paper on it. Tony Cass spoke on “sensors today”: blood sensors are still of prime importance for glucose measurement but now also give an instant blood profile, e.g. for pregnancy and other conditions. Professor Fraser Armstrong spoke on “Looking to the future”; Dr Robert Parker, the Chief Executive of the RSC, spoke on the RSC Chemical Landmarks scheme, and the plaque was then unveiled by the three principal investigators of the original work, Allen Hill, Tony Cass and Graham Davis. Final comments were made by Pete Edwards and a reception for the large audience followed.

The plaque reads:

Glucose Sensor In this laboratory on 20 July 1982, Allen Hill, Tony Cass and Graham Davis made the crucial discovery which led to the development of a unique electronic blood glucose sensor now used by millions of diabetics worldwide.
16 July 2012

1. A.E.G. Cass, G. Davis, G.D. Francis, H.A.O. Hill, W.J. Aston, I.J. Higgins, E.V. Plotkin, L.D.L. Scott & A.P. Turner, “Ferrocene-Mediated Enzyme Electrode for Amperometric Determination of Glucose”, Analyt. Chem. 1984, 56, 667-671.

Catalyst Science Discovery Centre and Museum, Widnes

Lablanc Process

Lablanc Process from the historical gallery "Birth of an Industry" at Catalyst. Image courtesy of Catalyst Science Discovery Centre.

The Catalyst Science Discovery Centre is the only science and discovery centre in the country devoted to chemistry. It was opened on its current site in 1986 and is run by a charitable Trust. The building was originally built as offices for John Hutchinson’s alkali works (probably in 1862). After the absorption of Hutchinson’s by the United Alkali Company in 1891 the building was leased in 1893 (and then subsequently sold in 1898) to Barnett Dutton, Auctioneers of Widnes, later becoming part of the Gossage soap works, founded by William Gossage (1799-1877) in 1908. Finally, with the rest of the Gossage estate, it was acquired by Imperial Chemical Industries, Ltd., on 5th October, 1948, and adapted for use as laboratories. After it closed in 1961 the Gossage Building was used by several companies including Hughes and Treleaven, who were the last owner before Catalyst was established.

There are five floors. The ground floor contains a reasonably priced, comfortable café, and a large exhibition area of mainly interactive exhibits on a wide range of topics and materials, e.g. soaps, dyestuffs, autocatalysts, photovoltaic cells, batteries etc. There is a Periodic Table near the entrance where there is still space to sponsor your own element. On the first floor there are two lecture theatres and a working laboratory where no less than 900 presentations of chemical experiments were conducted last year. Various chemical processes are covered here too in the well-lit and well-arranged galleries, e.g. on the Leblanc, Solvay, Castner-Kellner and other processes; materials such as penicillin, DDT, polythene, halothane (discovered in 1951 in the nearby ICI Widnes lab.) etc. are shown. On the second floor there are exhibits on plastics. Don’t miss the top floor called the Observatory: this glass-covered structure gives magnificent, panoramic 3600 views of the surrounding Merseyside area, most of which had housed some of the world’s largest chemical industry (ICI and other firms); some are still there of course, much has gone.

Catalyst was awarded a Royal Society of Chemistry blue plaque in October 2011 to commemorate the 1951 synthesis and subsequent commercial development and use of halothane, the first inhalation anaesthetic designed by chemists. Halothane was nominated for a plaque by the RSC Liverpool Local Section, and the Historical Group was represented at the presentation by Bill Griffith and John Hudson. The ICI General Chemicals Widnes Research Laboratory, where the synthesis was achieved, has since been demolished, so the plaque was placed on the nearby Catalyst Centre, which occupies the site of the former ICI Tower laboratory. Catalyst now has a permanent display relating to halothane, and is also the repository of the ICI General Chemical Archive which contains the original documentation relating to halothane. One particular highlight is a the series of chemical demonstrations given to children belonging to the very popular Catalyst Saturday Science Club and their parents.

Historical gallery "Birth of an Industry" at Catalyst.

Historical gallery "Birth of an Industry" at Catalyst. Image courtesy of Catalyst Science Discovery Centre.

The proceedings commenced with a welcome from Dr Jenny Clucas, a Trustee of Catalyst. She outlined the role of Catalyst, which is the only science discovery centre in the country devoted to chemistry, as well as being a museum of the chemical industry. There then followed a presentation by Professor Colin Suckling, son of Dr Charles Suckling who led the team which synthesised and developed halothane. Several other members of the family were present, but Professor Suckling reported that sadly his father was too infirm to be at the event but was extremely proud that he and his team were being honoured in this way.

Professor Suckling briefly outlined the history of anaesthetics. He referred to the fact that the first attempt to establish the scientific basis of anaesthesia had been made by Dr John Snow in the nineteenth century, and that in 2008 the RSC had erected a Landmark Plaque to Snow to commemorate his demonstration of the mode of transmission of cholera. The halothane story commenced when Dr John Ferguson, ICI Head of Research, suggested to Charles Suckling that he investigate a range of fluorinated hydrocarbons as possible anaesthetic agents. The most widely used compounds at the time were chloroform, diethyl ether, nitrous oxide, and cyclopropane. The ICI research resulted in the compound 2-bromo-2-chloro-1,1,1-trifluoroethane, which was found to be far superior to the anaesthetics then in use. It was safer, non-inflammable, and had a relatively low toxicity. Known as halothane, and trademarked as Fluothane, it was used worldwide in millions of operations between 1956 and the 1990s. It still finds some application in the third world, although it has largely been superseded by halogenated ethers such as enfluane and isofluane.

Historical gallery "Birth of an Industry" at Catalyst

Historical gallery "Birth of an Industry" at Catalyst. Image courtesy of Catalyst Science Discovery Centre.

Professor Paul O’Brien, Vice-President of the RSC and Professor of Inorganic Materials at Manchester University, then spoke about the Landmark Plaque scheme. He pointed out that the scheme helps to bring to the attention of the general public the role that chemistry has played, and continues to play, in advancing human wellbeing. The RSC normally erects three or four plaques per year, but a larger number will be unveiled in 2011, the International Year of Chemistry. Halothane was a perfect subject for a plaque, and Catalyst was the ideal location for it. He then presented the plaque to Jenny Clucas. The wording on the plaque reads:

ICI General Chemicals Widnes Research Laboratory in recognition of the outstanding scientific contribution made by Charles Suckling and others, close to this site in 1951, in the synthesis and subsequent commercial development of halothane, the word’s first synthetic inhalation anaesthetic. 22 October 2011.

A visit to Catalyst is highly recommended.

Halothane chemical plaque

Professor Colin Suckling (left) and Professor Paul O’Brien presenting the Chemical Landmark Plaque for Halothane, Catalyst Science Discovery Centre and Museum, Widnes to Dr Jenny Clucas on 22 October 2011.

Further information

Address: The Catalyst Science Discovery Centre (or ‘Catalyst’ as it is simply called on the building) is on Mersey Road, Widnes, Cheshire, WA8 0DF


Opening Hours: 1000-1700 on Tuesdays to Fridays and from 1000-1700 on Saturdays and Sundays; closed on Mondays (except during local school holidays).

There is an admission charge.

The Carlsberg Laboratory, Copenhagen

Carlsberg Laboratory

Carlsberg Lab by lint01. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 license.

The historic laboratory, built in 1897 and the principal place of research until 1976, is at 10 Gamle (“old”) Carlsbergvej. It is still in active operation, joined by a covered passageway to the modern research center next door. Neither building is normally open to the general public and a bell must be rung to gain admission to the old building. Inside it there is an impressive staircase rising from the entrance hall, with flanking busts of Louis Pasteur and the German chemist Justus von Liebig. Pasteur paid a visit to the laboratory in 1884.

The Carlsberg Brewery is open to the public. Its entrance is on Nv (“new”) Carlsbergvej, around the corner from the research center; the portal is framed by massive granite elephants, which actually support a cooling tower. Guided tours take the visitor through all parts of the brewery and provide him with a taste of the Carlsberg product. The very earliest research laboratory (1876-1897) was a part of the main brewery complex. It is now a museum and is visited as part of the guided tour.

The house in which the brewery founder J. C. Jacobsen resided (built in 1876) is on the brewery grounds, separated only by tall trees and gardens from the railway tracks on one side and the main brewery buildings on the other. It is now the “Mansion of Honor,” given as a lifelong residence to a distinguished Danish scholar. Scientists and humanists alternate as occupants. The most celebrated occupant was Niels Bohr, who lived in the house (except for his brief wartime absence) from 1932 until his death in 1962.

University of Manchester: Coupland Street to Bridgeford Street

The unglamorous rear (Bridgeford Street side) of the laboratories.

The unglamorous rear (Bridgeford Street side) of the laboratories. Above the rectangular plaque was the room where the first Manchester computer was originally assembled.

By 1900, Owens College was expanding, sweeping away the terraced residential streets of Chorlton-on-Medlock. While chemistry, medicine and the life sciences developed on and around the original site, physics and the various branches of engineering were steadily relocated in new buildings to the north, between Coupland Street and Bridge (now Bridgeford) Street.

In the nineteenth century, the College’s international reputation had focused strongly on chemistry. Into the twentieth – although the chemical laboratories were still growing – its world role was to be defined increasingly by physics. Key to this development was the prominent red-brick building on Coupland Street, now known as the Rutherford Building. On its opening in 1900, this was the fourth-largest physics laboratory in the world, after those of Johns Hopkins, Darmstadt and Strasbourg.

The facilities were largely devised by Arthur Schuster, Professor of Physics since 1888. Schuster had a key role in shaping the College’s overall development: alongside the historian T F Tout, he oversaw its transformation into the Victoria University of Manchester, completed in 1904. Schuster was the son of a German banking family, and contributed to the equipment of the laboratory from his personal wealth. Under his charge, student numbers in physics grew from 10 to around 250.

Pediment above the main entrance to the Physics Laboratory

Pediment above the main entrance to the Physics Laboratory, showing the crest of the original Victoria University of Manchester.

Schuster was succeeded in 1907 by the New Zealander Ernest Rutherford, a specialist in radioactivity. Under Rutherford’s supervision, this building was home to investigations into the nature of the atom which in many ways defined the research agenda for twentieth-century physics.

Hans Geiger developed the first Geiger counter here with Rutherford in 1908, and around 1913 Henry Moseley’s X-ray diffraction established the relationship between nuclear charge and atomic number. Moseley, regarded by Rutherford as a star student, died amid the carnage of the Dardanelles campaign in 1915.

The department had an unusual research culture. Ernest Marsden, later a leading scientific administrator in New Zealand, was a final-year undergraduate when he achieved the famous deflections which led Rutherford to propose what became known as the “nuclear” model of sub-atomic structure. Atoms, said Rutherford, are composed mostly of empty space; most of their mass is packed into a tiny core, or nucleus, in the centre.

Plaque on the wall of the 1900 Physics Laboratory (Rutherford Building).

Plaque on the wall of the 1900 Physics Laboratory (Rutherford Building).

Manchester under Rutherford became one of the major centres of cutting-edge research in both experimental and theoretical physics. The Danish grand theorist Niels Bohr worked here for a time in the 1910s, combining Rutherford’s model with Max Planck’s quantum theory to propose the orbital model of atomic structure. So too did James Chadwick, co-discoverer of the neutron.

Rutherford left to become Director of the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, in 1919. One of his final achievements at Manchester was to demonstrate the artificial disintegration of nitrogen by alpha-particle bombardment, an achievement often referred to as the “first splitting of the atom.”

The original Whitworth Laboratories.

The original Whitworth Laboratories.

The Whitworth Laboratories of 1909 were the territory of Osborne Reynolds, Professor of Engineering over a remarkably long tenure from 1868 to 1905, best known for introducing the Reynolds number in fluid mechanics.

The Laboratories’ graduates include Beatrice Shilling, who entered the electrical engineering programme as one of its first two female students in 1929, transferring to mechanical engineering for a Master’s in 1932. Manifesting an impressively absolute disregard for conventional standards of middle-class female behaviour, she combined a career in aeronautics with a passion for high-performance motorbikes, lapping Brooklands at 106 miles per hour in 1934. Shilling spent most of her career at the Royal Aeronautical Establishment, notably producing a modification to the Rolls-Royce Merlin carburettor (the “RAE restrictor” or “Tilly orifice”) which greatly improved British aerial manoeuvrability in 1941.

The purpose-built home of the Mark 1 computer on Coupland Street (now Coupland Building 1).

The purpose-built home of the Mark 1 computer on Coupland Street (now Coupland Building 1). Alan Turing's office window is at the right-hand end on the upper floor.

Behind the Physics Department, on the Bridge Street side, grew a complex of extensions. Some of which dealt with “electro-technics”: broadly, what is now called electrical engineering and information science. This was the cradle of Manchester’s early international strength in computer research, which owed much to the Second World War. On the engineering side, F C (Freddie) Williams and Tom Kilburn had worked on radar at the Telecommunications Research Establishment; in mathematics were Max Newman and (from 1948) Alan Turing, both of whom had worked on codebreaking at Bletchley Park.

It was in the Electro-Technics Department that the world’s first electronic digital stored-program computer, the Small-Scale Experimental Machine or ‘Manchester Baby,’ first operated on 21 June 1948. Though only a prototype, the new machine was designed to investigate a new technique of storing information on a cathode ray tube, based on Williams and Kilburn’s wartime radar experience. In doing so, it became the first machine ever to store its own instructions electronically in the same format as its data, demonstrating the essential properties of the architecture used for almost all computers ever since. The achievement is commemorated by a plaque on Bridgeford Street.

Plaque in the wall on the Bridgeford Street side.

Plaque in the wall on the Bridgeford Street side.

The Manchester Baby gradually evolved into a more usable machine, known variously as the Manchester Mark 1 or the Manchester Automatic Digital Machine (MADM). It was developed in close collaboration with the local engineering firm, Ferranti, who produced a commercial model in 1951.

The Ferranti Mark 1, as it was called, was the world’s first commercially available electronic computer: for a brief period in the early 1950s, Ferranti was one of the world’s leading suppliers of computing equipment, prompting (short-lived) hopes of British dominance in this increasingly important new industry. The first model was delivered to the University in February 1951. Its first home was the low-rise brick building on Coupland Street, now known as Coupland 1, which was purpose-built as the University’s “Computing Machine Laboratory”. Computing activity later transferred to the Electrical Engineering (now Zochonis) Building on the other side of Oxford Road, and eventually to the much larger Computer Building (now Kilburn Building) to the north.

Alan Turing, who joined the Mathematics Department in 1948 and became Deputy Director of the Laboratory the following year, was already well known for his revolutionary 1930s work on computability theory. Although his official role on the computer project was to develop software for the Mark 1, the restless and often unpredictable Turing pursued a variety of interests which the possibilities of the computer had opened up.

It was here, in 1950, that Turing prepared his famous 1950 contribution to the psychology journal Mind, on the question of whether machines in future might be defined as “thinking”: the answer, said Turing, was yes, if their responses to any given variety of questioning could not be convincingly distinguished from human responses.

Turing’s other great interest, from 1952, was morphogenesis – the formation of asymmetry and patterns in biology – which he pursued in collaboration with C W Wardlaw, who held the Cryptogamic Botany chair. Turing here hoped to treat the computer as a newly powerful tool to demonstrate that, given certain starting conditions and rules, distinct patterns could emerge from apparently homogeneous starting materials. His notorious conviction for “gross indecency” in 1952 had no apparent effect on his enthusiastic contribution to research on this and other mathematical questions. In 1954, however, Turing took his own life.

Access: no formal public access to the interiors (most of which have been heavily modified structurally, and now serve various administrative, non-laboratory academic and museum roles). There are good views of the exteriors along Coupland Street, Oxford Road and Bridgeford Street.

Schunck Building, University of Manchester

Schunck Building (present day)

Schunck Building (present day)

Halfway down Burlington Street stands the Schunck Building, part of a 1904 extension to the University of Manchester. Its unusual history captures how, at the turn of the twentieth century, the focus of scientific activity was shifting from private individuals to large institutions.

Edward Schunck, the building’s first user, was born in Manchester in 1820. The son of a German textile merchant, he received his earliest chemical training from William Henry, a leading manufacturing chemist, who brought him into the laboratory attached to the works where Henry’s Magnesia and other pharmaceuticals were made.

There were, of course, no University facilities near Manchester at this time, but Schunck’s background gave him an easy passage to the well-equipped research laboratories of Germany. After studying briefly at the University of Berlin, he moved to Giessen to study with the immensely influential Justus von Liebig, receiving his doctorate in 1841.

The Schunck family owned a textile works near Rochdale involved in calico printing, bleaching, fulling, and other processes, and in 1842 Edward returned to become chemical manager at the works. Over the next few years, however, he gradually withdrew from the factory and concentrated full-time on research. He investigated industrial materials such as dyestuffs, but also a range of other substances including chlorophyll, which he suggested played a similar role in plants to that of haemoglobin in animals (carrying carbon dioxide, rather than oxygen, around the organism).

Schunck established himself as one of the leaders of Manchester’s chemical culture in the years following the 1844 death of its long-term figurehead, John Dalton. He was repeatedly President of the Literary and Philosophical Society, and was closely connected with many of the organisers of Owens College, founded in 1851 and increasingly a centre for chemistry teaching.

Schunck, however, had no need of the College’s facilities. In the 1870s, he inherited the family fortune and built a superb private laboratory at his home on Kersal Moor, to the north of Salford, together with an extensive library of chemical literature. Late in life, he transferred around £20 000 to Owens College, to be used for promoting chemical research.

Schunck died in 1903, bequeathing the laboratory and library to the College. The bequest was taken literally. Not only were the contents of the library brought to the College, then in the process of becoming the University of Manchester: the entire physical laboratory was removed from Kersal and reconstructed on Burlington Street under the supervision of the Professor of Chemistry, H B Dixon.

Contemporary accounts suggest a faithful brick-by-brick reconstruction, but this is difficult to establish from the official records. Pevsner’s architectural guide points out that the brick of the building matches its neighbours, implying that this was really a partially new construction to a similar shape. The internal fixtures of the laboratory, however, were transferred directly.

Under the influence of German industrial success, the University’s chemical activities in this period were focused increasingly on the organic side of the discipline, which had applications in dyestuffs, food and explosives. The re-erected Schunck Laboratory forms one corner of what became a small quadrangle devoted entirely to organic work, filling the space between Henry Roscoe’s original Chemistry Building and the Medical School.

The organic expansion had already begun in 1895 with the Schorlemmer Laboratories (now hemmed in on all sides, and barely visible from the street). These were named in honour of Carl Schorlemmer, a former pupil of Robert Bunsen (of burner fame). In 1874, Owens College had given Schorlemmer the first Chair in Organic Chemistry in Britain. He was followed in 1892 by William Henry Perkin, Junior, son of the London chemist remembered for discovering mauve, the first synthetic dye. The younger Perkin’s students included Robert Robinson, a future Nobel Prizewinner and President of the Royal Society, and Chaim Weizmann, future President of Israel, whose work on fermentation processes proved crucial to the British war effort around 1915.

Further down Burlington Street, where the extensions to the John Rylands University Library now stand, were further chemical laboratories built in the 1940s and 50s. These were short-lived, as chemistry migrated – like almost all the University’s scientific activities – to new, larger buildings on the east side of Oxford Road. Following the path round to the right, however, reveals a collection of gloriously un-redeveloped outbuildings, giving a good flavour of what this end of the campus must once have been like.

The Schunck Building itself is now home to facilities including a vegetarian café and the Burlington Society, the postgraduate and mature students’ society for the universities of Greater Manchester.

Access: no formal public access to the interior. Good views of the frontage from Burlington Street, which is publicly accessible.

Unilever Research & Development Port Sunlight, England

Chemical Landmark plaque for Unilever

Unilever Research Laboratory, Port Sunlight

Unilever Research Laboratory, Port Sunlight, by Donald Farnworth. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

The presentation took place in the Unilever Port Sunlight Research and Development Laboratory on Wednesday 30 March 2011, to mark the centenary of their first R & D laboratory. After a buffet lunch, guests and research workers assembled in the main hall, and three speeches preceded the presentation.

Dr Mike Parkington, the Laboratory Director, said that this event celebrated one hundred years of the first purpose-built R & D laboratory at Port Sunlight. The original structure (the ‘Flatiron’ building), though much changed inside, is still in use and was built by William Hesketh-Lever (1851-1925, first Viscount Leverhulme) in 1911. There are some 750 R&D workers at Port Sunlight, including 200 PhD employees, constituting an international workforce. Many well-known Unilever brands, particularly detergents, soaps, hygiene and hair-care products were developed there. Professor Geneviève Beaver, the Chief R&D Officer, said that some 2 billion people worldwide used Unilever products. There is a considerable challenge for the firm to optimise existing products and develop new ones; research facilities were second to none in the laboratories with cutting-edge facilities.

Professor Paul O’Brien, Vice-President of the RSC and Professor of Inorganic Materials at Manchester University, thanked Unilever for hosting the event. The RSC Chemical Landmark Scheme was first introduced in 2001 and officially recognises historical sites in the UK where a significant chemical discovery or research has taken place. In this International Year of Chemistry 2011 several plaques will be awarded in recognition of the importance of chemistry and the chemical sciences in meeting the challenges of every-day life. There are currently over 47,000 RSC members and the thirty-five Local Sections in the UK are encouraged to nominate historical sites for awards.

Paul thanked the Liverpool Local Section which started the nomination process for the Unilever Laboratory in 2007. The RSC had collaborated with Unilever in significant projects in recent years, including: their sponsorship of the RSC Team work in Innovation award given to reward and promote innovation and creativity, and a joint collaboration called Project Splash in 2008, aimed at addressing water management in peri-urban communities. Unilever also supports the Pan Africa Chemistry Network by attending conferences and providing keynote speakers.

Paul then handed over the plaque to Dr. Parkington and Prof. Beaver, and Dr. Parkington formally thanked Paul and the RSC. There was then a brief tour of two research facilities in the building, one concerned with the development and use of hair-care products and the other on the development of soaps and hygiene materials.

By 15.00 the plaque had been affixed to the building and was unveiled by Paul O’Brien and Mike Parkington. It reads:

Unilever Research & Development Port Sunlight Laboratory. In recognition of the outstanding scientific contribution to the fast moving consumer goods industry made by Unilever Port Sunlight’s laboratory since 1911. One hundred years on, the people on site continue to deliver innovative products to enhance the lives of billions of consumers around the world.
30 March 2011

William Denny & Brothers Test Tank, Dumbarton, Scotland

Few buildings along the famous River Clyde region of Scotland figure as importantly to the history of shipbuilding, naval science and the British maritime empire than the small and innocuous brick structure that holds the Denny test tank: the world’s first commercial tank (or model basin).

The Denny tank, opened in 1884, was only the second of its kind, built on specifications provided by William Froude, an Oxford-trained mathematician and one-time collaborator with Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Froude designed the first private test tank to provide the British Admiralty with an accurate guide to how full-sized ships would perform at sea.

Well into even the twentieth century, shipbuilders continued to rely on the untrained eye, craft practice and a series of fairly arbitrary calculations to work out the optimum hull shape for ships of all varieties. Froude posited, and then demonstrated, that twelve-foot long model hulls propelled by railway carriage in a water tank 300 meters long would more accurately represent the behaviour of the same said design at sea.

The 300 metre long Denny tank at Dumbarton

The 300 metre long Denny tank at Dumbarton

The British shipbuilding industry was largely unconvinced of the benefits to be derived from Froude’s work, but he did find an influential supporter in the shipbuilder William Denny (whose firm built such ships as the King Edward, the first commercial vessel driven by Charles Parsons steam turbines). In a competitive business community where shipbuilders bid for contracts, accurately estimating ship speed and performance could provide a significant advantage.

William Denny (1847-1887) led his firm through a series of major shipbuilding reforms based on the use of experiments and rigorous sea trials to develop a working knowledge of efficient hull shapes. He instigated the practice of progressive trials to examine the relationship between engine power, speed and hull resistance in different ships; in the mid-1870s he began to closely work with Froude on the analysis of hull resistance; and in 1884 he finished work overseeing the construction of the test tank. He would later write of his firm’s approach to shipbuilding:

A quick and all-round approximation of any new proposal is the only platform from which a professional man can safely start; and it, again, can only be the outcome of years of laborious investigation, and observation, and experiment. The bulk of our brother-ship-builders, and I suspect pretty nearly all your men, don’t yet understand the meaning of this.

Today model testing remains a key part of shipbuilding practice, complimenting computer modelling. The machinery on display at the Dumbarton test tank (now part of the Scottish Maritime Museum) covers a wide chronology, but the museum displays have been presented as ‘Victorian’, complete with mannequin invisible technicians undertaking detailed study of ship curves and test tank measurements – while also moonlighting as night guards to the tank archives stored within the displays.

'Victorian' museum display complete with mannequin invisible technicians

'Victorian' museum display complete with mannequin invisible technicians

Dumbarton is a little over ten miles west of Glasgow. The frequent train service is recommended as it passes alongside the River Clyde, the birthplace of much of Britain’s former maritime empire.

For further details on visiting the tank visit the Scottish Maritime Museum website see

Elsie Widdowson, Cambridge

The presentation of an Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) National Chemical Landmark plaque took place on 1st December 2009 to mark the lifelong dedication and work of Dr Elsie Widdowson (1906-2000), a pioneer in nutrition science.

A graduate of Imperial College, she obtained a PhD in 1931 for research into the carbohydrate content of apples. In 1933 Dr Widdowson decided to spend some time in the King’s College kitchens to learn about large-scale catering, prior to undertaking formal study in dietetics. Whilst there she met Prof Robert McCrance who at the time was analysing plant foods for carbohydrates as part of his study of optimal diabetic diets. Their collaboration lasted 60 years and included the epoch-making publication “The Composition of Food” first published in 1940. The sixth edition of this text is still in print, 70 years later. Her researches informed the Government on aspects of wartime rationing, especially in connection with the addition of vitamins and mineral supplements to basic foodstuffs. For instance, she suggested that wartime bread should be enriched with calcium salts to compensate for the anticipated reduction of diary products in the diet. The calcium fortification of white flour used for breadmaking remains a legal requirement today. For the seven years prior to her death on 14th June 2000, she was the most highly honoured UK female scientist, having been appointed both CBE and Companion of Honour, the latter in 1993.

Elsie Widdowson spent most of her working life in Cambridge so it was highly appropriate that the Landmark ceremony took place at the laboratory named after her, at the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research Unit, Fulbourn, Cambridge. The Director of the Unit, Dr Ann Prentice, gave an in-depth account of Elsie’s life, and the Landmark plaque was presented to Dr Prentice by Professor David Phillips, at the time President-elect of the RSC.

Original article written by Alan Dronsfield and published in V. Quirke (ed), Royal Society of Chemistry Historical Group Newsletter, August 2010.

Prof Edward D Hughes and Bangor University, Wales

Prof Ted Hughes was a trailblazer in kinetics and mechanisms in organic chemistry. As a researcher in the period, 1928-63, Hughes’ work changed the aspect of organic chemistry by progressively replacing empiricism by rationality and understanding. Hughes was a long time colleague and friend of Sir Christopher Ingold, equally recognised for this area.

Hughes and Ingold introduced the mechanism terminology of Sn1, Sn2, E1 and E2 to organic chemistry in the mid 30’s and behind this was a multitude of carefully planned reactions, a talent that Hughes possessed. The understanding that Hughes and often, but not always, Ingold developed on substitution and elimination will be core to every first/second year university chemistry course across the world

Hughes, son of a farmer, was born near Criccieth, in Gwynedd, close to where David Lloyd George was brought up. His first language was Welsh and was educated at Llanstumdwy Elementary and Porthmadog County Schools. He graduated with a 1st Class Honours in Chemistry at UCNW, Bangor and obtained his Ph.D. also from Bangor in 1930 with Ingold as the external examiner. During this period, under the Leadership of Prof K Orton, Bangor was one of the finest centres of physical chemistry in the world.

He joined Ingold’s new group at University College, London (UCL) where he stayed until 1943 when he was appointed to the Chair of Chemistry at Bangor.

Hughes developed an active research programme at Bangor and the best known work during this period was the development of a method for isolating isotopically enriched water from natural water by continuous fractional distillation. This technique yielded 18-O enriched water that could be used to trace the fate of particular O atoms in a substrate molecule undergoing reaction and thereby elucidating the mechanism of the reaction. We understand that this was the first time 18-O had been separated by distillation in the UK and would have opened the door to enormous advances in Chemistry, Biology and Nuclear Physics. During his tenure at Bangor, Hughes maintained his collaboration with Ingold by his appointment as Honorary Research Associate at UCL. It is also worth noting that Ingold spent the time during the World War Two at the University of Aberystwyth.

In 1948, Hughes moved back to UCL to a Chair in Chemistry where he remained until his death in 1963, aged 57. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1949.

While Hughes was dedicated to Chemistry, he had a love of breeding and racing greyhounds. When he died, he left a wife, a daughter and 57 greyhounds.

Ted Hughes must surely be one of Wales’ most eminent and productive chemists. The names of Hughes and Ingold are giants in organic chemistry and Bangor University was a key location along this journey. A true Welshman, born and educated in Gwynedd, Hughes’ contribution to organic chemistry would be well recognized by an RSC Chemical Landmark being designated at the Chemistry Department at Bangor University.

The Landmark recognition recognises both Prof Ted Hughes’s contributions and the 125 year history of Chemistry at Bangor. This is the first such recognition in Wales. Being bilingual, it is also the only Landmark to contain the Welsh language.

Original article written by Dr E Malcolm Jones, Secretary, North Wales Local Section and published in V. Quirke (ed), Royal Society of Chemistry Historical Group Newsletter, February 2010.