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Tony Clifford

Emeritus Professor Anthony (Tony) Clifford

Colleagues will be sorry to learn of the death, on 29 March 2016, of Emeritus Professor Tony Clifford, former Professor of Chemical Technology in the School of Chemistry.  The following obituary has been prepared by Professors Chris Rayner and Mike Pilling.

Tony Clifford was born on 3 November 1938 in Wanstead, Essex.  Educated at Bristol Grammar School, he entered national service in 1956 servicing radar equipment, something that no doubt played an important role in developing his passion for a future career in science and technology. He was subsequently awarded an open scholarship at Balliol College, Oxford, where he obtained his B.A. and D.Phil.  Following a postdoctoral period in Minnesota, he was in 1966 appointed by Professor Peter Gray as Lecturer in Physical Chemistry at Leeds, where he was to remain for the rest of his academic career.

Whether he was teaching physical chemistry to the many hundreds of undergraduate students through the years, supervising over 30 PhD students, or publishing over 200 papers, reviews and patents, Tony helped and influenced many people throughout his busy and productive life.  He is very fondly remembered by many as an enthusiastic and engaging colleague.  He was frequently willing to befriend and help new colleagues, and collaborative activities became a key feature of his career, no doubt because of his outstanding expertise and engaging personality.

Tony made many important contributions to chemistry.  His first publication, which appeared in the highly prestigious journal Nature, suggested a revision of Mendeleev’s periodic table.  This clearly showed ambition, even though the paper did not have quite the impact he wished!  He went on to publish research in a broad range of areas including oxidation of organic compounds by inorganic salts, infra-red spectroscopy on surfaces, and precise measurements of diffusion coefficients and thermal conductivities, the latter of which was subsequently used in collaboration with the National Engineering Laboratory in East Kilbride to make measurements on over 3000 molecules.  During this work, Tony also discovered a totally unknown effect - the chromatographic retention of H-atoms on quartz surfaces.  Tony was also very proud of his book ‘Fundamentals of Supercritical Fluids’ which has a unique flavour of both theoretical and practical aspects, and makes it a ‘must read’ for anyone wanting to know more about the area.

Throughout his career, Tony held many different positions, including visiting Professor at Brown University USA, and a Royal Society Research Fellowship in Paris.  He was also widely known through the University for his roles associated with Bodington Hall where he was Warden of Seton House from 1974 to 1981 and Chairman of Wardens from 1978 to 1980.

Tony’s ability and engaging personality meant collaboration was often fruitful.  In 1984 he began a long and productive collaboration with Professor Keith Bartle, developing new methods for the utilisation of supercritical fluids for analysis and extraction.  The Bartle-Clifford team were recognised as world-leading by many who knew the area, and this led to Tony’s promotion to Professor of Chemical Technology in 1997.  It also led to the establishment of one of the first University “spin-out” companies, Express Separations, of which Tony was the Technical Director, and subsequently Critical Processes which remains in business today.

From the early 1990’s Tony worked extensively with Professor Chris Rayner, an organic chemist, and following initial work on extraction of anti-cancer compounds using CO2, they went on to demonstrate that supercritical carbon dioxide was an exciting new medium for highly selective reaction chemistry.  This opened up a new era of CO2 chemistry, way before the recent intense interest in the area from increasing environmental pressures.  Tony provided a unique perspective helping to explain important new observations of the solvent tuning principle, with his knowledge of the underlying fundamental physical chemistry of this unusual reaction medium.

Tony took early retirement in 2001, but carried on many of his activities through his work with Ricky Green and Harold Vandenburg at Critical Processes.  Links with the University have continued through successful research collaborations in various areas of clean chemistry, including with Keracol, a University spin out set up by Dr Richard Blackburn and Professor Chris Rayner.  Although you may not realise it, many products containing Tony’s natural extracts can be found on the shelves of major retailers like Boots and Marks and Spencer to this day.

For many, Tony will be remembered as an engaging, generous and entertaining colleague, with a mischievous sense of humour, frequently telling stories over a glass or two of his favourite red wine.  He was held in the highest regard as both an experimentalist and theoretician, and was also noted for his willingness to help fellow researchers, in Leeds and elsewhere, with many people on hearing of his passing, speaking very fondly of him, and telling stories of how he helped them in their careers.  Peter Gray, when he left Leeds for Cambridge in 1988, commented that Tony was unfailingly orientated towards the best in many fields and that he had graced Leeds, as he continued to do for the rest of his career.

Our thoughts and prayers go to Tony’s wife Anna and his family.  Tony will be very sadly missed, but also fondly remembered by all those who had the privilege of knowing him.