I did Pharmacy first, under the old apprenticeship system – apprenticed to a Master Pharmacist for three years, going to the Uni part-time and working the rest of the time in a chemist shop. There were exams at the end of the second and third years, followed by the Pharmacy Board Final. This involved prac dispensing exams, as demanding as any exams I ever did, and a prescription-reading
paper – to test how well we could decipher very bad handwriting! Back in the shop, I was often surprised by what customers would ask me, an 18- or 19-year old, to give them advice about. It must have been the white coat.
Through the Pharmacy years, I always had in mind to continue on into Science. When I did, I enjoyed the extra chemistry, especially the Honours year I spent in Professor Le Fèvre's Physical Organic Group. Working with Le Fèvre was a privilege, as many others, I'm sure, would be happy to confirm. So I went on, for an MSc and PhD with the Prof as my supervisor. Along the way and with his support, I worked towards a BA, mainly in maths and statistics.
After a postdoc in London I joined the staff here and, when Le Fèvre retired in 1970, became a member of Hans Freeman's newly formed Inorganic Department. From the start I gave third year courses on environmental inorganic chemistry and, with Neville Gibson, supervised Honours and Postgraduate students working on problems in Applied Coordination Chemistry.
We developed new methods of chemical analysis that used transition metal complexes in a variety of ways – as selective extracting agents (in surfactant analysis), to produce intense colour (in the determination of sulfide and sulfite) and as carriers for the preconcentration, by coprecipitation, of trace elements from solution at μg L-1 (parts per billion) level. At a time when the emphasis in this field was on developing efficient non-selective procedures for multi-element analysis, we showed that coprecipitation can be highly selective and took advantage of this effect to study individual forms of elements in marine and estuarine waters.
At Edinburgh University and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, I had the benefit of working with a colleague who was using novel methods to study the behaviour of trace elements in natural waters. And here of course, there were the students who trained with me. How can I do justice to the ideas, the enthusiasm and the good humour they brought to the place? They made it fun.
I retired in 2002.