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norman greenwood

Emeritus Professor Norman N Greenwood, MSc, DSc, PhD, ScD, D de l’Univ, FRS, CChem, FRSC

Emeritus Professor Norman Greenwood, FRS, former Professor and Head of the Department of Inorganic and Structural Chemistry, died on 14 November 2012.

Norman Greenwood was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1925.  He read Chemistry at the University of Melbourne (BSc 1945, MSc 1948) and, on the basis of his glittering achievements there, was awarded the prestigious Exhibition of 1851 Scholarship to enable him to read for a PhD at Cambridge.  Awarded his PhD in 1951, he took up a post as Senior Research Fellow at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment which he left in 1953 to become a Lecturer at the University of Nottingham.  In 1961, he was appointed as the inaugural holder of the Chair of Inorganic Chemistry in the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  Professor Greenwood came to Leeds in 1971 as Professor and Head of the Department of Inorganic and Structural Chemistry.

Professor Greenwood’s research was characterised by its exceptional distinction.  His early research centred on solid-state chemistry and his widely-translated Ionic Crystals, Lattice Defects and Nonstoichiometry had a lasting impact.  He was among the first to apply the Mössbauer effect to study chemical problems including, on behalf of NASA, the first such study of lunar rocks and his book (with T C Gibb) on Mössbauer Spectroscopy was for many years the definitive monograph.  Later, he worked on the chemistry of boron hydrides.  Major contributions to this field include the development of the concept of ‘boranes as ligands’, the incorporation of many metals as vertices in polyhedral borane clusters and the study of interconversion reactions during the thermolysis of volatile boron hydrides.  These studies displayed his originality and mastery of the wide range of experimental techniques necessary to investigate these very complex compounds.

Throughout his career, Norman Greenwood also attached very great importance to undergraduate education; this was manifest not least in his remarkable annual introductory lecture to new students.  He wrote several influential monographs for students and the publication of the monumental Chemistry of the Elements, of which he was the instigator and senior author, marked the climax of his contributions to chemical education, breaking new ground as a university textbook.  It became one of the world’s best-selling texts in inorganic chemistry and was translated into several languages.

Many honours and distinctions attended Professor Greenwood’s scientific achievements.  He was the recipient of the Tilden Lectureship and Medal of the Chemical Society, of which he was also Vice-President from 1979 to 1980, and of the Royal Society of Chemistry Medal for Main Group Element Chemistry, its Liversidge Lectureship and Medal and its Ludwig Mond Lectureship and Medal.  He held visiting professorships at universities in the USA, China, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Japan, and was awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Nancy and Toho University, Tokyo.  He was also awarded the A W von Hofmann Lectureship of the Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker.  In 1989 he was the first recipient of the Egon Wiberg Memorial Lectureship (Munich).  He was made a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chemistry in 1960 and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1987. 

By dint of his powers of incisive analysis, and his measured, thoughtful and effective contributions to debate, Professor Greenwood’s was one of the most highly-respected voices in the governance of the University.  He served continuously on the Senate from 1971 until his retirement in 1990; sat on many major committees; and served as the Chair of the Board of the Faculty of Science and of the School of Chemistry.  He was equally influential in many national and international scientific organisations.  He made notable contributions to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, becoming President of its Inorganic Chemistry Division and Chairman of its International Commission on Atomic Weights; to the Royal Society of Chemistry, where he was President of the Dalton Division; and to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, where he was President of the Chemistry Section.

Following his retirement in 1990, Professor Greenwood remained, until very shortly before his death, a regular and welcome visitor to the School of Chemistry.  In retirement, he continued to write and lecture on inorganic chemistry, and to be honoured for his scientific achievements.  In 1992, he was appointed as a Foreign Associate of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France and in the following year was awarded the Royal Society for Chemistry’s award for Tertiary Education.  Later, in 2000, he was chosen by the Royal Society to deliver that year’s Humphry Davy Prize Lecture.

Professor Greenwood is survived by his wife, Kirsten, and three daughters.