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john smith

Professor John A S Smith, MA, DPhil

Professor John Smith, former Lecturer in the Department of Inorganic and Structural Chemistry, died on 25th April 2013.

The following obituary has been contributed by Professor Derry Jones.

John Smith spent 14 years on the Chemistry staff at Leeds University from 1951.  His nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) research students from the 1950s included Keith Bartle who became a professor at Leeds, and David Tong who was to collaborate later with Smith on the design and development of nuclear quadrupole resonance (NQR) spectroscopic instrumentation and ran his own company.  Other research students and fellows included Jim Emsley and Sinisa Maricic who were to occupy chairs at Southampton and Zagreb, respectively.  Another, Richard Redpath, was seconded by ICI to the Caribbean before a five-year spell in Chile.

Smith was actively involved in spectroscopic chemical research from the 1950s until the present.  When he died on holiday in Portugal, he was still publishing papers and his NQR group at King’s College, London, is to host a Workshop in Magnetic Resonance Detection of Explosives in July 2013. 

Born in 1927 and educated in Nottingham, JASS was an early NMR research student of Sir Rex Richards in Oxford.  At Leeds from 1951, he was a member of Professor Gordon Cox’s molecular structure staff.  Smith was concerned mainly with ‘broad line’ NMR of crystals and powders but also, aided by rugby league professional Frank Smith, constructing one of the first high-resolution spectrometers.  Further, clad appropriately for work in a refrigerated room, he collected X-ray data for refinement, with Cox and Durward Cruickshank (both became FRS), of the crystal structure of benzene; this revealed anomalous bond lengths which led to a new error correction in X-ray analysis.

At Warwick as Reader from 1965, Smith increasingly focused on NQR spectroscopy.  Six years later, he accepted a chair at Queen Elizabeth College moving, on the merger, to King’s College.  Among the earliest to appreciate the potential of 14 N NQR in explosives detection, despite the low rf sensitivity, he and collaborators set about reducing this instrumental limitation; patents and some instrumental exports ensued.  More recently, as the primary NQR lab in the country (albeit in an engineering department), JASS’s group has been applying NQR to the clearance of abandoned minefields, detection of explosives in vehicles, and the analysis of heroin and of counterfeit pharmaceutical materials.

Research aside, JASS was a distinguished writer and editor on NQR, a persuasive lecturer, a congenial colleague and a gentle man.  He will be greatly missed, not just by his wife Selma and daughter Maria-Isabel, but by a range of collaborators across Europe.

An obituary was also published in the THE on 6 June.