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Jim Ballantine with the University of Swansea Department of Chemistry faculty in 1996-1997
Dr Jim Ballantine CChem FRSC

As teacher, academic and researcher, Jim Ballantine was a lifelong promoter and communicator of chemistry.

Although born in England, Jim grew up in Scotland and always regarded himself as a Scotsman. He was educated at both Perth Academy and Wirral Grammar School but went on to read chemistry at Liverpool University. Following his PhD, he was awarded an Imperial Chemical Industries Post-Doctoral Fellowship with Professor George Kenner to work on the synthesis of unsymmetrical porphyrins. Moving to Swansea University in 1961 to take up a lectureship in organic chemistry, Jim stayed there until his retirement in1998. Following his retirement, Jim continued to devote much of his time to chemistry.

A man of many talents

Jim Ballantine holding a wooden owl

From 1955, Jim was active in the Royal Institute of Chemistry and then the Royal Society of Chemistry, at both local and national levels. Until his death in April 2013, he served with distinction on many national committees, spanning local affairs boards, professional and membership boards and ethical committees. Not only did he serve four three-year terms on the RSC Council, he was also a stalwart of the South Wales West local section. At various times he served as chairman, organiser of events and lectures and Benevolent Fund rep, together with 23 years jointly spent as treasurer and secretary.

Although quite small, the South Wales West local section was generally held to be one of the most active; in no small part due to Jim's efforts. Jim proved instrumental in holding the section together during and beyond a difficult time: when its home, at Swansea University, disappeared with the closure of the chemistry department. Jim attended meetings until April 2012, and while forced to give his apologies for subsequent meetings due to his chemotherapy, he continued to contribute.

As Sir John Cadogan FRS FLSW put it, “He was such a splendid, pleasant and quiet man and a great servant of the RSC.” He was the recipient of the RSC award for Service to the Society in 2005 for his dedication and great efforts.

The great communicator

Jim was a great communicator and loved to promote chemistry to the wider community. His lecture, Poisons from the sea – or where to avoid the fish course, was given over 100 times to groups including Rotary clubs, students and even nurses. Despite his failing health, he delivered it as recently as February 2011 to the Swansea Science Café. Jim’s involvement with the Science and Energy demonstration lectures, documented in Bill Williams's profile, was presented over 500 times, with him taking over its organisation in the later years.

Jim was also principal organiser of the South Wales West Local Section ‘Chemical Olympiad Secondary Schools Knock-out Quiz’, a fore-runner of the RSC’s national Top-of-the-Bench competition, between 1980 and 2012. Over 3500 pupils directly benefited from this experience and Jim’s dedication to the competition was recognised by the RSC ‘Award for Achievement in the Promotion of Chemistry’ in 2008. Recognising the major task of setting out the questions each year, Jim’s final contribution was to compile a comprehensive catalogue of suitable questions. Typical of Jim, he carried out this mammoth task alone, in the last few months of 2012, when his health was fast deteriorating.

Analytical chemist at heart

As well as his outreach work, Jim was also prominent in the analytical chemistry community. He described himself as an analytical organic chemist and always liked to use instrumental techniques to provide chemical insight. Ensuring that instruments were in peak condition required considerable dedication and attention to detail, through which Jim developed outstanding organisational skills.

Consequently, when Swansea University set up an Institute of Marine Studies in 1978, Jim was appointed director. Jim set up and ran an environmental monitoring unit and was instrumental in bringing the EPSRC National Mass Spectroscopy Service Centre to the university in 1986. Not only was he the first director the facility, a post he held until his retirement, but his efforts made the service highly acclaimed. It was his integrity and devotion that ensured its success, such that it survives to this day, providing high quality data to the chemical research community of Great Britain.

Jim further passed his hands-on skills to his students. Professor Colin Pillinger FRS, head of planetary sciences at the Open University and Jim's first mass spectroscopy PhD student, said: “I think I can safely say that I probably wouldn’t have achieved as much if it hadn’t been for Jim letting me do research with him, not for him.”

Whilst Jim did not produce headline-making discoveries, he stands out as a long-standing and devoted servant of the chemistry community, both at ground level and the elevated heights of research. The Royal Society of Chemistry thrives on such people.

Words by Joel Loveridge, Rod Mason, Neville Jones, John Davies and Keith Smith.
Images courtesy of John Davies and Keith Smith
Published November 2014

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