This week we have heard the sad news of the death of one of our closest friends and colleagues, Professor Paul O’Brien.
Our chief executive Robert Parker says: "For many years Paul has been a steadfast, positive and committed member and representative of our Royal Society of Chemistry community.
"Paul was a loyal supporter of others, great fun to be around and was generous with his time to both his research colleagues and the many friends he made through decades of involvement with our activities at the RSC.
"We will miss him deeply and I pass on my sincere condolences to his wife Kym."
Paul O’Brien was Professor of Inorganic Materials in the University of Manchester; a joint appointment in the Schools of Materials and Chemistry. He was Research Dean in the Faculty of Science and Engineering (2000-2002), Head of the School of Materials (2011-2015) and Head of the School of Chemistry (2002-2009).
He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and former vice president, as well as holding fellowships of the Institute of Materials (2002), the European Academy of Sciences (2012), the Royal Society (2013), the Learned Society of Wales (2015) and IUPAC.
Paul was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2013, became a visiting Fellow at Magdalen College Oxford (2009) and a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies Durham (2011).
As a long-standing Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Paul played an enthusiastic part in the activities of two of our divisions – the Materials Chemistry and Dalton divisions.
Later that year we recognised his research, presenting him with the Longstaff Prize. The prize has been awarded since 1881 and is given to one of our members who has done the most to advance the science of chemistry.
Paul’s Longstaff citation reads: "Awarded for his work in the development of novel chemical methods for materials synthesis, especially chalcogenide containing thin films and quantum dots, shaping the international research field and establishing a highly successful spin out company."
In a typically modest response, Paul said: "It is a great honour to be recognised in this way. The list of previous winners is really very daunting."
The prize was awarded for: "Developing novel chemistries and process for materials important in the electronic industry. Including so called quantum dots of semiconductors and thin films. Many of these materials are of potential importance in solar energy generation."
Paul’s work was recognised by the Platinum Medal of IoM3 (3013) and The Gold Medal of the Society of Dyers and Colourists (2015). His work on Metallo Organic Chemical Vapour Deposition (MOCVD with Epichem (now SAFC) led to a number of processes widely used in deposition of advance semiconductors or oxides.
A continuing theme was the synthesis of well-defined nanodimensional particles and developing processes that avoid the need for the more hazardous chemicals and developing several new processes. This work has led to new routes to nanochalcogenides and to patents.
He was a prolific author of work in leading scientific journals, with more than 150 papers in Royal Society of Chemistry publications alone. He also supported our books publishing activities, including editing several series of our Nanoscience Specialist Periodical Reports and heading the SPR Editorial Board.
In 2001, Paul O’Brien and Nigel Pickett founded NanocoTechnologies Ltd, to progress the development of quantum dot technology. Since 2004, Nanoco has focused on the development of heavy metal-free quantum dots that comply with hazardous substances legislation. By 2013, Nanoco had a market capitalisation value of £384 million.
Quantum dots are crystals around 1/1000th the width of a human hair made of semiconductor materials. These dots can be designed to emit light, and by changing the size of the dot you can change the colour of light. A wide spectrum of colours can be produced relatively simply, with potential applications in backlighting for LCD displays, LED lighting, biological imaging and thin-film solar cells.
Part of our international chemistry community
Paul worked widely in Africa, including leading a project with UZULU (the University of Zululand) from its inception and held a Royal Society/Department for International Development grant for capacity-building work in Cameroon, Ghana and South Africa. Paul received honorary degrees from UZULU, Universidade de Aveiro in Portugal and, closer to home, from Liverpool University and QMUL in London.
Nicole Morgan, our Education Policy manager, says: "I worked with Paul on many Royal Society of Chemistry projects from the late 1990s onwards. Paul's enthusiasm and commitment to chemistry and our community always shone through – he was collaborative, supportive and respectful of expertise and opinions.
"He was generous, honest and incredibly hard working. I'm honoured to have been able to call Paul my friend."