Professor John Bradley - obituary
10 November 1937 – 25 December 2022
A Giant in Pioneering the Small!
Chemistry is a fundamental and enabling science. Chemists have an important role to ensure that development is sustainable, that societies benefit from chemical innovation, and that individuals are empowered to make informed choices to reduce harm. But where will these chemists come from? Teaching chemistry, instilling in them the enthusiasm to continue their studies, providing in them a will to feedback their enthusiasm and love of the subject to the next generation only comes from a person with a great devotion to the subject. One such person was Professor John Bradley
After studies at University of Leeds, he carried out his PhD at the University of London (King's College), where he met his South African wife, Elisabeth. After his postdoctoral fellowship in physical organic chemistry at Florida State University in 1964, he joined the Faculty at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, where he remained until his death on Christmas Day 2022. But what concerned John more than chemistry research was the lack of progress amongst South African students, many of them black, due to the poor science facilities for students in their schools and a paucity of teachers with good scientific knowledge.
He set up special University entry-level programs for the disadvantaged science students and a research program in chemistry education. The result was a large number of chemistry educators better able to teach chemistry to students in township and other schools. However, it was not enough. Local schools were not designed to teach chemistry; they had no rooms with running water or gas. John radically designed a sophisticated small-scale chemistry kit based on equipment not seen before in school chemistry. He innovated well-plates, lids, electrolysis and other equipment, also using silicone tubing and syringes found in biomedical work.
In 1990, he created Wits University's Centre for Research and Development in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education, known as RADMASTE. The novel microchemistry kit design came to the attention of IUPAC Committee of Chemistry Education, which John subsequently chaired from 1996 to 2001. Chemistry teachers in Africa (50 sites in 28 Countries), South and Central America and the Caribbean (7 countries), Europe and Eurasia (24 countries), Asia (10 countries), Indian Ocean Islands (4) were trained by John. Kits have now been developed for the other sciences and younger age groups. The Royal Society of Chemistry published a book “Microscale Chemistry”, which, with the kit, was sent to every high school in the UK in 1999. UNESCO established, through John, the first of 12 centres for Microchemistry at Wits University. And he never really retired; he was speaking in Belgrade in August 2022, and should have been delivering talks in Congo-Brazzaville through the UNESCO link this year at the age of 85!
His inspiration has passed to other academics and chemistry teachers (myself included) in these countries to develop their own brand of small-scale practical chemistry suitable for their conditions. The activities now improve classroom management, are environmentally suitable and enhance the understanding of chemistry.
“If you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together.” John wanted to travel far. He derived his greatest satisfaction from watching people grow, from seeing ideas take root and transform in ways he could never have imagined. (Julia Slotwinski, John’s Daughter)
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