Professor Robin Harris

Robin Harris [for biographical notes click Robin Harris' Research Group] served for the triennium beginning on 1 August 19891). He had joined the Department in 1984, bringing from the University of East Anglia an international profile in solid-state nuclear-magnetic-resonance spectroscopy. With the benefit of experience from the first twenty years of that new university’s growth, he added to the momentum of the Department’s emergence from the constraints of the 1970s and 1980s, sharpening its profile towards the Faculty of Science and the University’s executive.

In October 1989, directorates of undergraduate and graduate studies were created for the Board of Studies in Chemistry to improve the monitoring of students’ learning experience and the informing of teaching practice. At the same time, teachers of physical and theoretical chemistry aiding the assimilation of lectures began to meet larger groups of final-year undergraduates and to use worked examples; the move from tutorials (4-6 undergraduates) to workshops (14-24) spread to other teachers and second-year undergraduates. A rolling programme of Science-Faculty visits, which assessed the Department in May 1990, reported effective delivery of chemistry curricula. Undergraduates at the end of their second year were beginning to seek one-year placements in industry; those academically strong were supported and obtained concessions for an intercalated year, thus offsetting a small yet steady stream of intercalating undergraduates from other countries. In particular, the USA-based Institute of European Studies (IES) had been placing students at Durham from many states of the Union since the late 1960s. Each US entrant required a different curriculum, created by the Board's secretary by extracting groups of lectures, tutorials and laboratory sessions at various levels and devising specific examination papers. By the end of the triennium, successive appeals to the University’s executive had raised the chemistry-undergraduate admission quota from 69 to 93 and the Department's teachers were ready to contribute to two of the degree programmes for the first cohort (1992, October) of undergraduates at the Joint-University College on Teesside2).

Through the external appointments of Judith Howard to a chair and Patrick Steel to a lectureship, offsetting the resignation through ill health of Nick Canning, the number of research-group leaders on October 1 rose from 20 (1989) to 21 (1992); there was a synchronous growth in the intake of doctoral students from 28 to 42. Examinable lectures for first-year postgraduates were introduced (1990, January), and the preceding month saw the first assessed poster session for postgraduates in the second or third year of study. The triennium was marked by two internal promotions to professor (Williams, 1991; Parker, 1992) and two substantial research grants in the summer of 1989. The larger was awarded by the Science and Engineering Research Council to establish an interdisciplinary research centre (IRC) in polymer science and technology for collaborative research at the universities of Durham, Leeds and Bradford. Funded by block grant for six years from October 1, it had Professor Jim Feast as its Durham director, a readership (external appointment, 1989, Richards) resourced from funds released by establishment of the Courtaulds chair in 1989 Professor Kenneth Wade, and a relatively generous per-capita funding for researchers jeremy_hutson. The second, from Tioxide UK PLC, assisted the establishment in 1990 of a chair in crystallography and supported it from 1991 for four years as the Tioxide professorship in order to resume single-crystal X-ray diffraction work at Durham after the death in service of Dr Harry Shearer (1923-1979). The appointment of Judith Howard to the chair enhanced the Department's prestige twofold - it attracted a strong field of external candidates and gave the Board its first woman research-group leader. In 1985, the Government's Higher Education Council for England (HEFCE) had begun a rolling programme of assessments of research activity in universities. The calendar years of 1989-91 formed the third period of assessment, named the research-selectivity exercise. In 1992 (December), HEFCE announced a grade of 5 for the Department, the highest of five grades

The effectiveness of administration within Chemistry was increased by fortnightly meetings of section heads (acting as a management advisory committee) and by making other committees smaller, with each member’s responsibility defined. With the growing cooperation of the University’s executive, the return of a share of research-grant overheads to the grants’ investigators became more timely and transparent.

Extra accommodation for research was created indirectly by reconstitution of the Science Laboratories mechanical workshop as a Chemistry-Biology operation (1990, April). The acquisition (1990, October) of a part of the University’s industrial research laboratories’ accommodation at the Mountjoy Research Centre (Professor David Clark, paragraph 3) allowed further expansion (Yarwood research group). The dispersal of the partly-used chemicals in the Chemistry central store3) freed room 004 for refurbishment as a fluorination suite, opened in April 1992 for a four-year collaboration with British Nuclear Fuels Fluorochemicals Limited, and accommodation for the IRC's NMR laboratory - destined to serve until April 2003 - was acquired in the south-east corner of the Courtyard Building (History, 1953-68). Yet the largest change by far came from the completion in May 1991 of stage 3 of the Chemistry-Geology Building, which fused with the Arthur Holmes-Scarbrough corridor block to treble the width of that part of the south-east wing (History, 1953-68) and extend the east wing eastward by the same distance. The available research space on the stage-3 ground floor housed the newly-arrived crystallography research group; the rest housed two lecture theatres (081, 085) and the rock store for Geological Sciences - that Department occupied the second floor also. The first floor accommodated the IRC. Its researchers gleefully emptied the portakabin accommodation - on the lawn between the Building's north and west wings - that they had used since October 1989 and the 1960-vintage, opposed-sash fume cupboards of rooms 001 and 003, where polymers had been synthesised since 1984.

For 1986-1989, see Professor Kenneth Wade; for 1992-1995, see Professor Lyn Williams.

1) University of Durham, Board of Studies in Chemistry, minutes, 1989-1992.
2) JUCOT was established at Thornaby-on-Tees by the University of Durham and the newly formed University of Teesside. The latter withdrew before the first graduations, leaving the former to develop the College into a campus with residential colleges and industrial-research laboratories. In 2002, the University of Durham received the Royal assent to refer to the campus as Queen's Campus.
3) The custom-built central store in 1960 consisted of rooms 010, 042 (eastern half), 108 (eastern half) and 110. It dealt with chemicals and apparatus. In 1964, the chemicals were moved to 022, newly built. Chemicals unused at the end of a project, including material in opened bottles and home-made substances, were returned routinely to the chemicals store. In 1974, the eastern half became a preparation room for the first-year undergraduate laboratory and circulation-space access to the south-west courtyard. During the major ground-floor relocations in 1976 (History, 1968-1981), the western quarter of 022 was assigned to crystallography and the rest to the Waddington research group, so the chemicals were decanted to room 004, a former preparation room for an undergraduate laboratory. As health-and-safety legislation developed and money to buy chemicals became more plentiful, the storage and management of chemicals improved in laboratories for research groups and undergraduates, thus lowering the attractiveness of the contents of 004 to a point where they became a liability.
hod/robin_harris.txt · Last modified: 2016/08/15 16:03 by euan
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