Robert Parker on the death of liquid crystals pioneer George Gray
23 May 2013
George William Gray was "a pioneer in liquid crystal chemistry" who will be sadly missed, RSC Chief Executive Dr Robert Parker said of his death last week.
"George Gray's work was instrumental in the development of liquid crystal displays (LCDs), stimulating a multi-billion dollar industry and making possible the wide variety of flatscreen devices we use today, from televisions to mobile phones to tablet computers.
"Working together with the UK's Royal Radar Establishment, he discovered the cyanobiphenyl liquid crystals, which have the right stability and alignment at room temperature to induce the optical properties that make them suitable for LCDs.
"It is particularly poignant that this year saw the 40th anniversary of the publication of his seminal paper on these liquid crystals, on 22 March 1973."
George Gray was born in Denny, Scotland and undertook his chemistry education at the University of Glasgow. He obtained his PhD from the University of London while working as an Assistant Lecturer at the University College of Hull. His academic career continued and developed at Hull, where he was Professor of Organic Chemistry until 1990 when he moved to Merck Chemicals. In 2005, the RSC awarded a Historical Chemical Landmark to the University of Hull to commemorate more than 50 years of liquid crystal research.
Gray was the recipient of the 1995 Kyoto Prize for Advanced Technology, often referred to as the Japanese Nobel Prize. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry. He also served as Chair of the British Liquid Crystal Society, who honoured his achievements by establishing the George W Gray Medal for contributions to liquid crystal research and technology.
Professor John Goodby FRS of the University of York, who was Gray's PhD student and successor at Hull, and worked with him for 40 years, said: "George Gray was one of our greatest pioneers, who gave us 4'-pentyl-4-cyanobiphenyl - a material that became the workhorse of so many research studies and the stable nematogen that underpinned the rapid growth of commercial LCDs. His seminal contributions have influenced us all no matter what our scientific discipline, and the ensuing technological developments have affected people all over the world.
"Those who knew George will remember him as a friend and colleague to so many, young and old, within our community. We are forever grateful to him for his contributions to the field and will greatly miss his immense knowledge, his enthusiasm for science, his warmth and his love of life."
Professor George W Gray
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