A Short History of MSDG


The group celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013. 

It was conceived at a meeting of the ‘founding fathers’ at the City University, as it had just become, in 1963. It held its first informal meeting at BISRA Battersea (the laboratories of the British Iron and Steel Research Association) in the autumn of that year. Its first formal meeting was held at the Imperial Smelting Corporation, Avonmouth, in the summer of 1964, where the host was John Lumsden, who was well known for his thermodynamic studies of molten salts’ systems.

Founding Fathers

The ‘founding fathers’ were:

  • Tony Hart of the CERL Leatherhead (the laboratories of the Central Electricity Generating Board), whose group was active in high temperature fuel cells and corrosion by molten salts; 
  • Roy Littlewood of BISRA, who pioneered the use of predominance diagrams for molten salt systems which are analogous to the well known Pourbaix diagrams for aqueous systems. (In my opinion the molten salts’ diagrams should be called Littlewood diagrams); 
  • John Tomlinson of the Nuffield Group in the Metallurgy Department at Imperial College, who was active in research at very high temperatures on molten silicates (a future chairman, Derek Fray, was one of his research students at the time !); 
  • Graham Hills, an electrochemist, from the Chemistry Department at Imperial College and subsequently of the Chemistry Department of the University of Southampton before leading Strathclyde University in Glasgow (he had helped to look after the residuum of the Bockris Group at IC when the latter moved to the USA); 
  • Douglas Inman of the City University, who, at various institutions, had been active in molten salts‘ research since 1953.

There have only been seven Chairmen over the last 50 years: Douglas Inman of Imperial College; David Kerridge of the University of Southampton; Brian Cleaver of the University of Southampton; John Duffy of the University of Aberdeen; Trevor Griffiths of the University of Leeds; Derek Fray of the University of Cambridge; Andrew Abbott of the University of Leicester.

Activities

From the start we were strongly supportive of the application of fundamental research to industrial problems and applications, and over the first few years of the group held many of our meetings at industrial venues. 

One such venue was the Wilkinson Sword (Graviner) laboratories at Colnbrook near the western end of the main runway at Heathrow ! The first Chairman (DI) remembers well meeting the French ‘grand homme des sels fondus’, Bernard Tremillon, the invited speaker at the Wilkinson Sword meeting, nearby at the said airport.

As evinced above, the history of the Group is strongly entwined with European molten salts’ research and in particular with the European EUCHEM conferences on molten salts. The first of the latter conferences had been held in Norway in 1966 and the fourth conference in the series was organised by the MSDG at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester in 1972, under the chairmanship of Douglas Inman. 

We became truly international at this meeting with, for example, a large representation from the USA, in particular of those associated with the MSRE (the molten salts‘ reactor experiment at Oak Ridge, Tennessee).

The Group also organised, again under the chairmanship of Douglas Inman, the 1988 12th meeting in the EUCHEM series at the University of St. Andrews, for which the local organiser was John Duffy. We also celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the MSDG at this meeting.

Royal Society of Chemistry

Up to 1977 the Group was a small independent organisation, but in that year it affiliated to the Chemical Society (as the Royal Society of Chemistry then was) as an Interdivisional Subject Group.

Soon afterwards in 1978, the Group took its initial step ‘out of’ molten salts per se, by co-hosting a meeting entitled ‘Ionic Liquids’ in Oxford with the embryonic Society for Electrochemistry, which also subsequently affiliated to the Royal Society of Chemistry as the Electrochemistry Group. 

David Kerridge was chairman of the MSDG at the time and Douglas Inman, the chairman of the Society for Electrochemistry. This meeting explored the relationships between (hopefully !) anhydrous molten salts and concentrated aqueous solutions. 

A book, ‘Ionic Liquids’, based on the presentations at this meeting and edited by Douglas Inman and David G Lovering was subsequently published by Plenum Press.

Molten Salts

‘Molten Salts’ are very diverse and with most of the Periodic Table elements (as compounds) being available as suitable components, range from the simple ionic (e.g. NaCl), through the simple anionic (e.g. NaNO3), the polymeric (e.g. borates and silicates), molecular (e.g. HgCl2), molten hydrates (e.g. CaNO3.4H2O) to the Room Temperature Ionic Liquids (RTILs). It is the latter liquids which have become very important in recent years and it is noteworthy that both the present chairman and secretary of the Group are involved in this area.

Written by Doug Inman 
November 2013