Professor Lyn Williams

Lyn Williams [for biographical notes click Lyn Williams' Research Group] served from 1 August 1992 for three years1. Under his calm guidance, a rising tide of external directives was channelled through consensus into the forming of stronger Departmental management and the closer monitoring of activities. The perceived intrusiveness was harnessed to lay a sure foundation for future expansion.

A committee, set up in March 1993 to review the feasibility of introducing a four-year undergraduate integrated-master degree programme to run in parallel with the established three-year bachelor programme, produced the first masters’ intake in 1995. By February of that year, the committee had become the teaching committee, with responsibility for delivery of the whole undergraduate chemistry curriculum. By May 1993, under the ruling of a newly assertive University teaching-and-learning committee, undergraduates were identifying their examination answers by code rather than name, following a decade of campaigning by the National Union of Students. And in November, a team of examiners from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) spent a week in the Department assessing the quality of the teaching of chemistry, grading it as excellent, the highest of three grades. The lengthy process of strengthening admission to undergraduate programmes continued and led in 1995 to the first annual interdepartmental June-July two-day residential conference for potential applicants to programmes leading to first degrees in either Chemistry or Physics. That year saw also the first Durham festival of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, a three-day Eastertide event for the public, particularly schoolchildren2.

During the three years from 1 October 1992, the number of research-group leaders had increased from 21 to 22, the departure of Vernon Gibson and Jack Yarwood to chairs at London Imperial and Sheffield Hallam, respectively, having been compensated by the appointment of Andrew Beeby, Matthew Davidson and Andrew Hughes to lectureships. Buoyant recruitment of doctoral students - their teaching being subject since March 1993 to a chemistry postgraduate committee - stood alongside three internal promotions to professor (1993: Gibson, whose chair was funded by BP Chemicals PLC; 1994: Bryce, Richards) as evidence of the Department’s ability to sustain grade-5 research activity Professor Robin Harris (paragraph 3). From October 1993, the research groups' achievements began to be presented around the Department's corridors through A0-sized posters on alternate walls. In 1994, the Government's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council reviewed the achievements of the IRC since its inception in October 1989 and announced early in 1995 a 4-year extension of its block grant, thus safeguarding a substantial and highly productive part of the Department's research activity until the end of September 1999. However, falling income from Government elsewhere caused the University from August 1994 to pass resource to its budget centres through the less favourable computer algorithms DRAM (Durham University departments' resource-allocation model) and DREAM (Durham University departments' resource for equipment: allocation model). A year later, the first annual rentals on floorspace occupied by academic departments were levied against DRAM through DRAMA (Durham University resource-allocation model for accommodation). Gradually, the algorithms' inflexibility became a challenge to research activity.

In March 1993, an information-technology committee began to initiate the upgrade of communications and experimental practice, while that December a rolling programme of internal inspection of safety in Chemistry workplaces started and the safety committee acquired executive status.

Three decades of subterranean corrosion by ducted space-heating steam from the Science Laboratories coal-fired boiler-house - in woodland 150 m south of the Chemistry-Geology Building - had diverted heat to the steady destruction of the fume cupboards in the laboratory for first-year undergraduates and the warming of a distant footpath to Grey College. Consequently, the ducted respiratory air that raced through Chemistry was often cold. Additionally, increased research activity had overstretched the air-handling system serving the two oldest stages (1960 and 1964) of the Building, so the Department proposed and eventually the University adopted a five-year upgrading of space-heating plant and fume cupboards. The prototype was research laboratory 027, where the refurbishment, including new fume cupboards (1994, July-November), was half-funded by the Wolfson Foundation. The room drew in its own supply of respiratory air, tempered by heat from the University's new gas-fired boiler in the Building's basement; within two years that boiler was supplemented by another, newly installed at the north-east end of the Dawson Building to support future refurbishment. By March 1995, the University had accepted most of the Department’s proposals to relieve overcrowding in undergraduate and research laboratories: the surface-science laboratory (Professor Richard Chambers, final paragraph) had been allocated extra, adjacent accommodation (096) from July and the design of the Chemistry-Geology Building’s fourth stage was under way.

1. University of Durham, Board of Studies in Chemistry, minutes, 1992-1995.

2. The Department continued to play a prominent part, as it had done from the inaugural year (1978), in the annual summertime Schools-Industry Project Week. Local science-based industries, working through a two-person secretariat, would form partnerships with teachers in nearby secondary schools and pairs of their students in years 10 (ages 14-15 years) and higher to collaborate on a project of mutual interest. The projects - twenty or more - would culminate in a week of full-time work at one of the University's Science-Faculty undergraduate laboratories, with the teams lodging at colleges. There were to be more than thirty summers of such partnerships.


For 1989-1992, see Professor Robin Harris; for 1995-1998, see Professor David Parker.

hod/lyn_williams.txt · Last modified: 2016/08/04 00:00 by euan
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