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Passing of eminent scientist Professor Noel Hush

22 March 2019
Remembering a giant in the world of chemistry
Emeritus Professor Noel Hush AO FRS FNAS FAA, a major force in chemistry research and Head of Theoretical Chemistry at the University of Sydney for almost 20 years, passed away on 20 March 2019 at the age of 94.
colour portrait photograph of Noel Hush

Emeritus Professor Noel Hush

Professor Hush was a giant in global chemistry, both in his research and personality. He was a theoretical and computational chemist, and established the Department of Theoretical Chemistry at the University of Sydney in 1971. Professor Hush's research career spanned eight decades, yet he remained at the cutting edge of his field. He helped enhance our understanding of photosynthesis and influenced research in nanotechnology.

His work focused on the development of a model for electron transfer reactions in chemical systems, a model used to interpret a wide range of phenomena across chemistry and biochemistry.

Professor Hush’s models predict and explain electron transfer processes – the most basic of chemical reactions. His elegant theories were based on application of molecular quantum mechanics, and explain why the time‐scale of such reactions ranges from femtoseconds (in photochemical reactions) to milliseconds (in biological reactions) to centuries (in geological reactions).

His work has had wide impact in fields ranging from corrosion to photosynthesis, and solar energy to molecular electronics.

“Professor Noel Hush was an extraordinary researcher and teacher. He was a true Renaissance scholar whose breadth and depth of research was extraordinary, even by the very high standards evident at the University of Sydney,” said Professor Stephen Garton, Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor. 

Born in Sydney, Professor Hush studied at the University of Sydney, obtaining his Bachelor of Science with Honours in 1946 and his Master of Science in 1948, and worked as a research fellow in the Department of Chemistry from 1945 to 1949. He lived in England between 1950 and 1971, where he worked at the University of Manchester and the University of Bristol.

He was an extraordinarily active researcher after retiring, publishing five journal papers in 2017 at the age of 92.

Upon returning to Sydney, Professor Hush set up the Department of Theoretical Chemistry at the University of Sydney – the first such department in Australia. The department rapidly became established as a centre for excellence in theoretical chemistry teaching and research.

In 1989 he retired and became Emeritus Professor, engaging in full-time chemistry research at the University of Sydney. He also held numerous prestigious visiting scientist positions at universities in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Professor Hush continued to contribute to the theory of electron transfer throughout his life, and especially concentrated on the connection between thermal and photoinduced transfers. He was an extraordinarily active researcher after retiring, publishing five journal papers in 2017 at the age of 92.

Professor Hush received a Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) from the University of Sydney in 2009 in recognition of his eminent career in chemistry. He was elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 1977 and as a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1988. He was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1993.

In 2007 he received the Welch Award in Chemistry, a global accolade awarded to encourage and recognise basic chemical research for the benefit of mankind. He was elected to the prestigious US National Academy of Sciences in 2011, and won the Ahmed Zewail Prize in Molecular Sciences in 2013

“I’d known of Professor Hush’s work throughout my career and when I arrived in Sydney in 2017, I was very much in awe of him. As I got to know him, I discovered he was witty, insightful and always offered me good advice. I’ll miss Noel very much,” said Professor Philip Gale, Head of the School of Chemistry.

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