Ron Hester - obituary
1936 - 2022
Ron Hester was a pioneer of time-resolved vibrational spectroscopy who spent most of his career at the University of York. He played a major role in developing the Lasers for Science Facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL). He also made an impact in his retirement by editing many books on environmental issues for the RSC. His influence through former members of his research group has spread to the USA and India, as well as the UK.
Ron obtained his BSc (and later a DSc) from the University of London and his PhD from Cornell. He moved to Cambridge as a post-doctoral fellow before returning to Cornell as an assistant professor. He was recruited in 1965 as one of the founding lecturers at the University of York, where he was promoted to a chair in 1983. He remained at York for the rest of his career.
Ron’s PhD with Robert Plane in Cornell served as his introduction to the power of Raman spectroscopy for studying speciation in aqueous solution and in molten salts. In the 1970s, he started using the strong enhancements of the resonance Raman effect, beginning with cobalt corrinoids before moving to organic radical ions and metal peroxo complexes.
Of particular importance was his demonstration in 1981 that the excited state of [Ru(bpy)3]2+ in solution can best be described as a charge-transfer state with the charge localised on a single bipyridine. This experiment demonstrated that a species with a sub-microsecond lifetime can be characterised using steady state spectroscopy under continuous laser irradiation. He was also able to obtain spectra of [Ru(bpy)3]+ by using the enhancement at a silver electrode. He continued to exploit these techniques, especially for molecules of biological interest including proteins, nucleic acids and their complexes.
In the mid-1980s, together with David Phillips, Ron supported the development of the Ultra-violet Radiation Facility based within the Central Laser Facility at RAL where he could use pulsed lasers to obtain resonance Raman spectra of excited states and intermediates with even shorter lifetimes.
These vibrational spectra provided structural information, not obtainable from UV/vis absorption spectra. His first work on time-resolved resonance Raman (TR3) spectroscopy appeared in 1984, probing the triplet state of diphenylbutadiene. TR3 spectra of quinones, iron porphyrins and biological molecules followed.
In these early days, the Triplemate Raman spectrometer was transported from York for the experiments. Legend has it that Ron funded the York lab van through SERC (the predecessor of EPSRC) for this work. By the early 1990s, he was obtaining TR3 spectra and measuring the kinetics of much shorter-lived excited states using picosecond lasers.
As ever faster-pulsed lasers became available, Ron delved into ultrafast infrared and electronic spectra of excited states, for instance of azobenzenes and rhenium complexes. The developments at RAL laid the foundations of the highly successful Lasers for Science facility today.
Already in Cornell, Ron authored a textbook of inorganic chemistry with his colleagues Sienko and Plane. In York, his teaching skills were highlighted in many important courses on physical and inorganic chemistry. In addition, Ron served the community as chair of the SERC Chemistry Committee and a member of its Science Board and Council; for RSC he was a member of the Publication Board. Within the University, he contributed to the development of policy at a high level.
Ron’s influence and mentorship can be gauged from comments from a few of his former post-docs and collaborators:
Siva Umapathy (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Bhopal): “When I arrived in York, I had no laser experience and so did not know much about how to set up a laser experiment or calibrate a spectrometer. After a visit to Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, I told Ron that I wouldn't be suitable for the position since I'm not experienced in electronics and computer operations. He told me, "I know your abilities and let's wait for six months and if you still haven't picked up the knowledge and skill, we can discuss other options". Now when I look back, without such encouragement I would not be where I am.”
Steven Bell (Queen’s University Belfast): “Ron’s great zest for life showed through in his enthusiasm for science and the infectious energy he put into everything he did. He was tremendously supportive of younger researchers.”
Igor Lednev (State University of New York, Albany): “Ron played the most significant role in my career development. I was absolutely fascinated by experimental Raman spectroscopy when I experienced it for the first time in his lab in 1990. It was a turning point in my professional career because I have been focused on the development and application of this method since then. I was lucky to learn Raman spectroscopy from the best in the field.”
David Phillips (Imperial College, former President RSC): “Raman was a new venture for my group, but through Ron's influence, we quickly came to appreciate the virtues of being able to obtain structural information on transients in photochemical reactions, particularly when the time-scale of such measurements shortened to the picosecond and sub-picosecond regions. I am eternally grateful to Ron for his inspiration.”
Another aspect of Ron’s work was the commissioning and meticulous editing of the book series. The first series, edited with the late Robin Clark, started as Advances in Infrared and Raman Spectroscopy (Wiley) but broadened its scope later as Advances in Spectroscopy. Following his retirement in 2001, he published the RSC series on Issues in Environmental Science and Technology with Roy Harrison, covering a remarkable range from agriculture to geoengineering to indoor air pollution.
Ron remained a regular visitor to the York Chemistry coffee room, always keen to discuss plans for his next ski trip. Ron had been chair of the University’s ski society for many years.
Ron passed away at home on the 25th of March 2022, aged 86. He is survived by his wife Bridget, children Stephen, Alison, David, Catherine, and 10 grandchildren. Ron loved skiing, golf, wine, music, science, bad jokes, and most of all, his family and friends. See Ron's tribute webpage.
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