Professor Richard Chambers

Richard Chambers [for biographical notes click Richard D. Chambers' Research Group] served as acting chairman of the Board of Studies in Chemistry from July 1983 until his full three-year chairmanship began that year on October 11. Applying his experience of what makes research in synthetic chemistry successful internationally, he strove to build and sustain up-to-date analytical services, while setting that research effort among chemists of different specialisms in a department of 20 or more research-group leaders. Additionally, he set out to consolidate the myriad initiatives of his predecessor's reaction to a decade of declining Departmental self regard, and to foster a nascent culture of shared responsibility.

An effective response to the second and final annual cycles of the Government's new-blood lectureships programme (1982-4; see also Professor David Clark, paragraph 3) allowed the appointment of Vernon Gibson and Martin Bryce. They were joined by Nicholas Canning, appointed through the retirement of George Kohnstam and Mike Weston from posts that had ceased to be research-group leaderships in 1981 and 1982, and the departure of Joe Howard for industrial research. The filling of a vacated chair (David Clark, 1983) was the final element contributing to an increase in the number of research-group leaders on October 1 from 14 to 17 (1983-6). The chair was filled in 1984 by an external appointee (Robin Harris) to strengthen spectroscopy and computational chemistry. In 1985-6, the leaders' success rate in winning grants from the Government's Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) peaked at 50% and 1984 produced the first of eight annual 6-week rent payments from the hosting of the Open University's T281 summer school. Other financial indicators were less encouraging. From December 1984 the University made the chairman responsible for presenting to its treasurer and the Board, soon after the start of a financial year on August 1, budget headings against which he was to monitor the spending of the University's allocation to its account for the recurrent cost of chemistry (such as chemicals, glassware, printing). He had to publish an end-of-year statement also. An overspend that had risen rapidly by July 1983 to 20% of the annual allocation was repaid over three years by a combination of the chairman's cutbacks, wistfulness in the chemistry purchasing office and inquisitions at the central-store hatch. The Department had to agree to the cancellation of the University's subscription to Beilsteins Handbuch der Organischen Chemie in order to protect subscriptions to 17 of Chemistry's periodicals and 20% of its allocation for new textbooks.

Perhaps through the newly-rigorous undergraduate curriculum, the Department found itself struggling to reverse a marked monotonic decline - greater than the national average - in applicants for undergraduate chemistry programmes (372 produced 75 entrants in 1981, 256 gave 62 in 1986). It designed, printed and distributed its first admissions brochure; its admissions officer campaigned tirelessly in colleges and on committees. Yet recovery took three more years. To complement the Departmental hospitality for first-year undergraduates from 1982, food-and-drink socials, off-campus eventually, began in 1985 for students in the second year (late May) and third year (early May). That October, the Board gingerly entered the arena of laboratory projects for final-year Chemistry undergraduates by inviting them to opt for a project instead of one of the three 72-hour groups of standard laboratory experiments (inorganic, organic, physical). To ensure safe practice and effective supervision, most project workers were soon crowded into their supervisors' research-group space. Graduations ended for the two-subject-honours programmes shared with Applied Physics (1985) and Botany (1985) [first intake 1964], and with Geology (1977) and Zoology (1985) [1965]. The first two collaborations continued in new programmes for Molecular Biology and Biochemistry (first intake 1984; management board from October 1985) and the Physics and Chemistry of Materials (1985; October 1986). The Science Faculty was poised to supplant the others. October 1982 had seen the first entrants to its Natural Sciences degree, which offered programmes of honours-level tuition in the second and third year by extraction from a range of single-honours degree programmes. Entrants to its predecessor, General Science, had received separate tuition, below honours level, in their second (P1) and third (P2) years and had aimed for second-class honours at best. Relatively strong recruitment to the new degree seemed to threaten recruitment to single-honours science, so the Board became a contributor to the programme reluctantly. From October 1985 the course units Chemistry A1 (biological sciences) and A1 (physical sciences) were taught by extraction from second-year Chemistry. A year later A2B and A2P (from third-year Chemistry) were added. Course units below single-honours level in chemistry limped on for a new Natural Sciences ordinary-degree programme; from October 1983, Chemistry O1 (P1 until after June 1983) was offered to second-year ordinary-degree undergraduates, a fair proportion of whom had been year-1 honours Chemists; a year later, Chemistry O2 (P2 until after June 1984) had its inaugural third-year intake, including a sprinkling of former year-2 honours Chemists.

A second home-produced recruitment brochure (1985), targeting potential postgraduates and supplementing regular presentations to Chemistry undergraduate finalists at Durham, produced a slow yet steady rise in the October intake (from 15 to 17 in 1983-6). Many postgraduates benefited from the much improved instrumentation for mass spectrometry (new instrument in 1984) and liquid-phase nuclear-magnetic-resonance spectroscopy (1985). Funding for the latter had been won by agreeing to collaborate with Newcastle University and then securing most of the cost from SERC on the strength of a contribution from the Department's share of the Durham University equipment fund. A financial model was thus set for future upgrades of major Departmental instrumentation.

Administrative load increased through the University's espousal of staff-student consultative committees (Chemistry's inaugural meeting was in April 1984) and the issuing of questionnaires for undergraduates to comment on the effectiveness of groups of lectures (May). Yet gradually demand was reduced to match supply by measures such as tying the dates of the Board's meetings to the University calendar and acquiring in 1986 a wordprocessor for each secretarial office (rooms 105, 135) and for the newly formed computing room (113/115). A third professorial office (103B/103C) completed the game of musical chairs in a very full Department.

In 1984, better accommodation (098) for surface-spectroscopy research was acquired when the rehousing of engineering-geology research vacated rooms (096-098) built for it History [go to 1953-68]. Polymer-chemistry researchers gratefully moved to the roomier accommodation (001, 003) vacated by the surface spectroscopists and stayed for seven years. Further relief from crowding beckoned through the prospect of collaborative research with the University's Industrial-Research Laboratories, formed in 1985 and accommodated within the new Mountjoy Research Centre Professor David Clark. Meanwhile, from October 1984, inorganic research (100, 104) benefited from a second tranche of replacement fumes cupboards.

1. University of Durham, Board of Studies in Chemistry, minutes, 1983-1986.

For 1981-1983 see Professor David Clark; for 1986-1989 see Professor Kenneth Wade.

hod/richard_chambers.txt · Last modified: 2016/09/04 20:11 by euan
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