Distinguished Chemist, Historian of the Nottinghamshire community of Beeston, and member of the Royal Society of Chemistry since 1946
Stephen Wallwork, who has died aged 93, was born in Ashton-under-Lyne in 1925, to a bank inspector father who instilled the importance of hard work, and a mother who brought him up to be apprehensive and to expect not to succeed. He described himself as "not very bright" but nevertheless gained entrance to Manchester Grammar School. Although he enjoyed science, teaching his younger sister his scientific learning under the kitchen table during wartime air-raids, he initially specialised in languages, winning school prizes for French and German. It was not until the sixth form that he moved to the sciences, when he had to cover four years' work in two years. Despite this, in 1943 he gained a scholarship in chemistry to Brasenose College, Oxford.
The second world war was underway whilst Stephen was at Oxford, but he was not conscripted as the study of science was a 'reserved occupation'. He did though take part in weekly training as part of the college's fire-fighting team and was on duty whenever a siren sounded.
From his fourth year at Oxford, Stephen chose crystallography as his research topic which set the direction of the next 40 years of his career. He worked alongside Dorothy Hodgkin, who became the first female (and to date only) Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, and her tutee Margaret Roberts who went on to be the first British woman Prime Minister.
After graduating with a first degree and a DPhil, Stephen moved to Nottingham University where he joined the Department of Chemistry in 1949. He began as Assistant Lecturer and later went on to become Senior Lecturer and then Reader, with a year as Acting Head of the Physical Chemistry Department. There being no X-Ray Crystallography research at Nottingham University, Stephen set up the X-Ray Crystallography department, starting with a budget of £1000, in a 3m2lab which also served as his office.
In the late 1940s, without computers, solving a crystal structure was a labour of love, often taking many months to obtain just a single result. Stephen's determination of the Alpha-Quinol structure, which he began in Oxford in 1946 under the supervision of 'Tiny' Powell, was successfully completed, through patience, perseverance and meticulously accurate calculations, in 1978.
Stephen was one of the first supporters of computers, sitting on the working party that introduced computer facilities to the university in the 1960s. When one was finally installed during his time at Nottingham, it took up the whole of a large room and had the storage capacity of a tiny fraction of a mobile phone today. Yet it vastly sped up the process of determining crystal structures.
During his time at Nottingham, Stephen published nearly 100 papers on his crystallographic research and in 1956 a book 'Physical Chemistry for Students of Pharmacy and Biology'. This was translated into Spanish and Japanese, with 2nd and 3rd editions published in 1960 and 1977. Ever keen to support colleagues and young researchers in the development of their careers, Stephen wrote the book as no publication at the time presented physical chemistry in a sufficiently understandable way for non-physical scientists.
Not only was Stephen an outstanding crystallographer but he also cared deeply about the growing crystallographic community at both national and European level. Stephen became secretary of the Crystallographic Group of the Institute of Physics, and the Chemical Crystallography Group of the Royal Society of Chemistry. He also played a pivotal role in setting up the British Crystallographic Association in 1982, from two committees he had helped form, the European Crystallography Committee (1970) and the United Kingdom Crystallographic Committee (1969).
His crystallographic career (both paid and voluntary) spanned five decades and his contribution to the development of modern crystallography has been enormous. Structures from crystallographers like Stephen have underpinned much of the cutting-edge chemistry that has been carried out over the past 60 years, including the identification of the structure of DNA.
In 1983, having taken early retirement, Stephen enrolled on a new post-graduate course in Local and Regional History. Bringing his scientific mind-set and his talent for painstaking research, his dissertation involved a careful reconstruction of the sixteenth century outbreak of plague in Beeston. He graduated in 1985, aged 60, with his second Masters degree. This despite struggling to obtain a pass in the subject at school and having his first university assignment returned, with the request to rewrite it as a history essay rather than a scientific paper!
Stephen brought to local history his scientific mind-set and his considerable talent for painstaking research. His M.A. dissertation involved a careful reconstruction of the late sixteenth century outbreak of plague in Beeston. Demographic analysis of this type was still quite new - as indeed were computers - in historical research in the mid-1980s.
Between 1985 and 1990, Stephen worked as Statistical Assistant in the Department of History at Nottingham University. The post involved research, helping colleagues with numerical work and teaching mathematical statistics to history students. After his second retirement aged 65 years, this time from the history department, he continued to help voluntarily with numerical history for several years.
Having become very knowledgeable on every aspect of the local history of Beeston, Stephen was one of the authors of the two historical trails published by the Beeston Civic Society. He continued to research and write up the local history of Beeston in retirement and became involved in the Blue Plaques scheme in the area, helping to award several plaques for places of historical interest and compiling a leaflet with information on them all. He was also much in demand as a popular lecturer on the history of Beeston, taught a WEA class on that subject and led the research efforts when that class became a research group.
Stephen's love of walking and cycling was hindered by his peripheral neuropathy, which he put down to exposure to hazardous chemicals in his early career. With the decrease in physical activities, he took up watercolour painting in his 50s. He continued to paint and pursue research (particularly local history), publishing his last historical article in late 2018 and producing his last painting for his beloved wife of nearly 65 years, Marion, just days before he died.
Stephen had a thirst for new, intellectual and technological experiences, a breadth of interests, a desire to extend his skills and to be as helpful as possible to others, and an interest in problem-solving. He is survived by his wife, their four children and six grandchildren.