Laureation address – Professor Anthony Cheetham

Friday 24 June 2011

Professor Anthony Cheetham
Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science

Laureation by Professor Peter Bruce
School of Chemistry
Friday 24 June 2011

Professor Anthony Cheetham

Chancellor, it is my privilege to present Professor Anthony Cheetham for the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.

Let me begin by inviting you to examine your surroundings. The chairs on which you sit, the building in which this ceremony is taking place, the clothes you are wearing, are all examples of materials. The mobile telephone in your pocket or handbag, the iPod and now the iPad, indeed many of the devices we take for granted in our modern world, depend intimately on materials with unique electrical, optical and magnetic properties. It is no exaggeration to say that materials not only pervade our culture but shape it. It is the science of materials that Tony Cheetham has made his own.

Establishing the structure and chemical composition of materials is the foundation on which our understanding, and ultimately exploitation, of materials is based. Tony Cheetham has made seminal contributions to this endeavour. He pioneered methods capable of establishing the structures of materials – by which I mean how the atoms are arranged and bonded together – without the need to grow single crystals, which had always been the case in the past. As such, his work permitted access to the structures of important materials that cannot be obtained as single crystals. He pioneered the use of nuclear magnetic resonance to study magnetic materials and the use of high resolution analytical electron microscopy to determine the chemical composition of materials on a smaller scale than ever before.

However, this merely scratches the surface of his achievements. He has, for many years, worked on the synthesis of porous solids; these are materials that contain ordered arrays of tunnels with diameters of less than 1 millionth of a centimetre and exhibit unique properties as catalysts for chemical reactions and for gas storage. Recently he discovered new phosphors. These are materials that change light from one colour to another, allowing us to create white light with much greater energy efficiency than the lighting we use today. Adopting Tony’s phosphors would reduce substantially the electricity and hence CO2 emissions needed to generate light. His phosphors have been patented and are being commercialised.

Hearing of such achievements, you will not be surprised to learn that Tony Cheetham has received more than 30 awards and honours. Amongst his most distinguished awards are the Somiya award of the International Union of Materials Research, in 2004, and the Leverhulme Medal of the Royal Society in 2008. He is a fellow of the Royal Society (the UK Academy of Sciences) and notably of several other national academies, including the German and Indian Academies of Science.

I first met Tony some 25 years ago in Oxford. Then he was a relatively junior faculty member but clearly someone who could make things happen. He moved to the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1991, where he founded the Materials Research Laboratory and through his own research as well as the management of the centre he catapulted Santa Barbara to a world leading position in materials research.

Many would have been content with this success, but not Tony. He persuaded the US funding agencies to support the establishment of an International Centre for Materials based in Santa Barbara. The Centre has organised many conferences and workshops, which have brought together scientists from third world countries in Asia and Africa with those from developed nations. This is an achievement that goes far beyond individual scientific endeavour and is one for which Tony should be, and I’m sure is, justly proud. In recognition of his work, Tony will receive, later this year, the TWAS Medal from the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World.

Time does not permit me to tell you about Tony’s activities in the world of finance and venture capital or his role as science advisor to major multinational companies, such as Unilever, and governments.

I must not end without mentioning his role as a mentor. Tony has trained and mentored many of the best scientists working in materials today. I’m delighted to count some of his former students as my colleagues here at St Andrews. He has instilled in them not only an enthusiasm for the subject but also an understanding of what the important problems are and how to tackle them. There can be no greater legacy for any scientist than the success of the next generation. Tony is a great supporter of younger scientists and a good friend to St Andrews.

Finally, Tony recently returned to the UK to a Chair of Materials at Cambridge. However, while an undergraduate at St Catherine’s College Oxford one of Tony’s tutors advised him to, in the words of the tutor, “set a bigger sail”. Tony clearly took these comments on board, but rather than a bigger sail he fixed an outboard motor to the hull and launched a scientific career that I am sure far exceeded the tutor’s expectations and has brought him to today’s ceremony.

Chancellor, in recognition of his major contribution to materials chemistry I invite you to confer on Professor Anthony Cheetham the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.

Category Awards

Related topics

Share this story