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Emeritus Professor Graham Dixon-Lewis

Emeritus Professor Graham Dixon-Lewis, MA, DPhil, FInstE, FRS

Emeritus Professor Graham Dixon-Lewis, FRS died on 5 August 2010. In the words of Charles Westbrook, the President of the international Combustion Institute, “the combustion community has lost one of its finest scientists and most beloved colleagues.”

Born in 1922 and a pupil at Newport High School, Graham Dixon-Lewis went up to Jesus College, Oxford, in 1940, as a State Scholar and Welsh Foundation Scholar, to read Chemistry.  Having graduated in 1944, he remained at Oxford to undertake research for a DPhil (awarded in 1948) on the oxidation of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, under the supervision of Professor J. W. Linnett.  During the course of his doctoral studies, Professor Dixon-Lewis became interested in flame propagation.  However, in 1946, he was offered a good position working on polymers for Courtauld Ltd, based in the company’s fundamental research laboratory in Maidenhead.  After three productive years’ research on the kinetics of vinyl polymerization, the pull of his first research interest proved stronger and he took a less lucrative position as research officer with the Gas Council, researching on flames and combustion.  Importantly, in 1950 Graham married Patricia Best.

Four years later, in 1953, Graham took up a post as Research Chemist in the then Department of Coal Gas and Fuel Industries at Leeds (which later became the Department of Fuel and Energy).  His appointment was under the auspices of the Joint Research Committee of the Gas Council and the University.  He was subsequently made Senior Research Chemist, and later Principal Research Chemist, before becoming Gas Council Senior Research Fellow when the Joint Research Committee was replaced by a Fellowship Scheme in the mid-1960s. 

After a key pioneering paper, on the structure of a slow burning hydrogen flame, with Professor Alan Williams at the Ninth International Symposium on Combustion at Cornell University in 1962, Graham Dixon-Lewis became renowned as an international leader on the computation, with detailed chemical kinetics, of the structure, first of the hydrogen laminar flame, then, important sequentially, those of carbon monoxide/hydrogen, followed by the methane-air flame.  The outstanding researches of Graham and his group on laminar flame structure ranked him as one of the world’s foremost authorities in the field.  His research Group collaborated on all aspects of flame.  It drew upon expertise in the Department of Physical Chemistry on gaseous diffusion and chemical kinetics, whilst Graham’s computed stretched laminar flame structures were essential input to the models of turbulent combustion developed by Professor Bradley and the Group in Mechanical Engineering.  In what one commentator described as a series of almost classical papers published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, he deployed exceptional experimental skill and versatility, combined with a profound understanding of the theoretical aspects of the subject, to unravel the complexities of his chosen system.  His work was highly influential, not just in relation to flame per se but also in the wider fields of chemical kinetics and fuel technology. 

Professor Dixon-Lewis published extensively in other leading journals, including Combustion and Flame and the International Combustion Symposia.  His research attracted funding from the Science Research Council and the gas industry provided equipment in support of his work.  Due in no small measure to the achievements of Graham Dixon-Lewis, Leeds continued to flourish as a world centre of combustion excellence.

Professor Dixon-Lewis also took a full part in his department’s teaching programmes, and in the mentoring of postgraduate students.  He was for many years an associate lecturer in the Department of Physical Chemistry.  He played an important role, along with colleagues in the Departments of Fuel and Energy, Physical Chemistry, and Mechanical Engineering, in establishing (in 1967) and sustaining the internationally renowned Centre for Studies in Combustion and Energy.  His interdisciplinary approach also extended to collaborations with Professor Goldsworthy in the Department of Applied Mathematics. Externally, his national and international reputation ensured that his services were widely sought by professional bodies and journals.  He served as a committee member and honorary treasurer of the British Section of the Combustion Institute, and as a member of the Institute’s Programme Committee for International Symposia, the Flame Chemistry Board of the International Flame Research Foundation and of the Editorial Board of Combustion and Flame.  In 1965, he was Visiting Professor at the Johns Hopkins University USA, a Visiting Scientist at the Sandia National Laboratories, Livermore in 1987, and at the Max Planck Institute, Gőttingen in 1994.

Somewhat anomalously, the nature of the funding for his post led to Professor Dixon-Lewis being classed for many years as an external appointment.  Hence, his promotion to a Readership in Flame and Combustion Science in 1971 was made on an honorary basis.  However, he transferred to the academic staff as Reader in 1977 and was awarded a Personal Chair in the following year, in recognition of his pioneering contributions.

Graham retired from his Chair in 1987, with the title of Emeritus Professor. There followed a lengthy Indian summer of further scientific achievement.  As a Research Professor, he continued to research and publish assiduously.  His scientific distinction was manifest in several major awards in this period.  He was the first person to receive both Gold and Silver Medals from the Combustion Institute in the same year (1990).  In 1993, he was the recipient of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Award for Combustion and Hydrocarbon Oxidation Chemistry.  Two years later, he was awarded the Dionizy Smolenski Medal of the Combustion Section of the Polish Academy of Sciences, and in that same year (1995) he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.  In 1997 he received the Sugden Award of the British Section of the Combustion Institute and in 2008 he was awarded the Huw Edwards Prize of the Institute of Physics for Services to Combustion Physics.

This year on the 14th April Graham presented what proved to be his last scientific paper, on the nature of very weak hydrogen flames, to the Sixth Fire and Explosion Hazards Seminar at Weetwood Hall. The following evening, at the Seminar Banquet at the Royal Armouries, the delegates were on their feet toasting Graham and Pat on the occasion of their Diamond Wedding Anniversary.  His last social gathering was on 16th July at an informal party thrown by Elaine and Danny Oran at the New Inn to celebrate Elaine’s Award of an Honorary D.Sc. at Leeds.

Graham Dixon-Lewis is survived by his wife, Pat, son Andrew, and daughters Stephanie and Melanie.  He was universally admired for his warm friendliness, his quiet humour, and his generosity and willingness to help anyone who asked for his thoughts.