Search site



Obituary: Eric McIntyre - full obituary

Sadly, as many colleagues will know, Emeritus Professor Eric McIntyre, former Professor and Head of the Department of Textiles and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, died last month.

Born in 1928 in Auchterarder, Perthshire, Eric McIntyre was educated at Morrisons Academy, Crieff, before attending the University of St Andrews, where he obtained first class honours in Chemistry. He began his research career with ICI Limited in 1952 as a research chemist, studying the synthesis of intermediates for polyester fibres. This work led to the discovery of an innovative process used to produce over 500,000 tonnes a year of terephthalic acid and related intermediates for the manufacture of polyester fibres based upon polyethylene terephthalate. It also marked the beginning of a very fertile research period that included study of the development of black polyester and the activity of catalysts in linear polymer synthesis - work which culminated in a new catalyst system suitable for use in establishing polyester fibre manufacture by ICI in the USA.

Further important research conducted at ICI included the synthesis of new fibre-forming polymers; processes for the production and coating of non-woven fabrics; research into the chemical aspects of the production and modification of polypropylene fibres; polyester fibre modification; and a study that created a new principle for producing durable fibre surface modification and led to the development of a number of commercial products for improving the performance of polyester fibres. Eric went on to become first a Section Head and then the Head of the ICI Fibres Divisions analytical research and service activities. Whilst much of Erics work with ICI was confidential in nature, the impact of his pioneering research on synthetic fibres is amply demonstrated by the number of UK patents (over sixty) in which he is listed as the prime inventor notable among them being the introduction of a family of surface-modified synthetic fibres for which the term epitropic fibres was coined.

In 1977, Eric McIntyre was seconded to the Department of Textile Industries at the University of Leeds, his contribution proving so valuable that he was formally appointed two years later as Professor of Textile Industries. His arrival in the Department transformed research into the synthesis, production and modification of manufactured fibres. His approach was outstandingly creative, characterised by a capacity for innovation, a logical approach to synthesis, rigorous analysis and clarity of both thought and expression. During almost twenty years at Leeds, Erics impressive portfolio included important research into liquid crystalline polymers; fibre-forming polymers; chemical finishing of fabric; hollow fibre membranes; ceramic fibres and polymer gel electrolytes his influence upon the academic field as well as the textile industry has proved both inspirational and long-lasting.

As well as his considerable academic abilities, Eric also demonstrated outstanding qualities of leadership. His periods as Head of the Department of Textile Industries and Chairman of the Board of the Faculty of Engineering enabled him to foster and develop interdepartmental research into polymers and fibres, and he was also active in establishing the Interdisciplinary Research Centre in Polymer Science and Technology involving the Universities of Leeds, Bradford and Durham. When government funding for higher education was reduced during the 1980s, Eric worked with characteristic focus and vigour to obtain alternative financial support for the Department from industry and other funding bodies. With his customary forethought and tenacity, he insisted upon negotiating long-term sustainable solutions, rather than settling for the quick fix. The Departments future became increasingly secure as its research reputation continued to improve a development in which Erics own international profile and publications played a central role. He retired from his Chair in 1993.

Eric McIntyre was regarded with great respect for his intellect and innovation, both by those who worked or studied alongside him, and by those subsequently inspired by his research and publications. Those who were privileged to know him, though, quickly came to appreciate him just as much for his personal qualities. Unfailingly modest about his own outstanding achievements, he had a quiet but deep-rooted integrity and great respect for others that shone through in all his dealings with staff and students. He will, in the words of one former colleague, be remembered as a true gentleman as well as a great scientist.

Published: 22 September 2008