Professor K J Packer - obituary
18 May 1938 – 18 September 2021
It is with great sadness that we belatedly announce the death of our father, husband and grandfather, Ken. Perhaps our delay in tying up the loose ends of his career is testament to the central role of family in his life, not to mention his many and varied interests.
Ken was well known for his pioneering development of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and its application to the solution of a wide range of chemical, physical and biological problems. Throughout his career, he forged strong collaborations and friendships with colleagues in academia and industry, eventually joining BP Research in May 1984 as head of Spectroscopy Branch before returning to academia in 1993, when he was appointed to a Research Chair in Physical Chemistry at Nottingham University. He retired in 2001.
Early on, he observed the first AB4X spin system and made the first magnetic resonance observation of niobium-93 in solution, thus demonstrating the potential of multinuclear NMR in chemical sciences. Hitherto, chemically related NMR had been restricted to the observation of protons, fluorine and phosphorus. His analysis of line shapes of spin-1/2 nuclei coupled to central quadrupolar nuclei enabled quantitative measurements of the spin–lattice relaxations of the central nuclei in multinuclear molecules and ions to be made — a technique subsequently shown to have wide application. He applied the method to the elucidation of the structure and dynamics of solutions of electrolytes. Thus, he demonstrated the complex relationship between microscopic dynamics and bulk transport properties in these cases. He was the first in the UK to apply pulsed magnetic field-gradient spin echo techniques to the investigation of diffusion and flow in liquids.
Ken spent his childhood in Folkestone, Kent, appearing on stage in rep from the age of ten and later taking up ballroom dancing ‘primarily to meet girls’; he dropped the dancing at university but his enthusiasm for am-dram endured – he was a talented singer. He also played hockey, tennis, and cricket, which along with fishing became a particular lifelong passion.
In 1955, when he was studying for A-levels at Harvey Grammar School, Ken’s father was murdered. He could never judge how this event affected him but always expressed a huge debt of gratitude for the way in which his mother continued to support him. His decision to study Chemistry at Imperial College (1956-59) was inspired by a maternal uncle, whereas his choice to specialise in inorganic chemistry was inspired partly by its reputation as the easy option! He studied for his PhD at Cambridge (1959-62), where he came across NMR for the first time, met colleagues he’d work with for decades, and most notably met Christine, his future wife, librarian in the Lensfield Road lab. After their marriage, she joined him on a working honeymoon/post-doctoral year at Dupont Central Research Labs in Delaware, USA.
Ken became a lecturer in the School of Chemical Sciences at UEA in 1964. He and Christine spent two happy decades in Norwich raising their children, James and Alison, and it came as no surprise that they returned to Norfolk in retirement. They enjoyed 12 busy, rewarding years, continuing their mutual love of gardening, until he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
Ken was always approachable, warm, and supportive, making many friends across the world, but he could also be wonderfully funny and silly – particularly with his four adored grand-children. The Radio 4 show I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue often reduced Ken to tears of helpless laughter, and that is how his family prefers to remember him.
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