The Tilden Prizes are named after Sir William Augustus Tilden, British chemist and pioneer in the teaching of science.
Born in 1842, Tilden studied at the School of the Pharmaceutical Society and won the first Bell Scholarship. In 1863, Tilden became demonstrator in chemistry at the Pharmaceutical Society, where he went on to gain his BSc and subsequent DSc.
He spent an eight-year period as senior science master at Clifton College before becoming Chair of Chemistry at Mason College (now the University of Birmingham) and a fellow of the Royal Society.
At the age of 52, Tilden became Professor of Chemistry at the Royal College of Science, a position he held until retirement in 1909. Appointment as Emeritus Professor of Imperial College soon followed.
Tilden's research activities ranged from determining the relationship between the specific heat of metals and their atomic weight, to be investigating the nature of tarpenes and hydrocarbons. In 1884, during his study of terpenes he demonstrated that the synthetic conversion of isopropene into rubber was possible; however, he never managed to develop a commercially viable route to rubber synthesis.
Arguably one of Tilden's most significant legacies was his support of the younger universities of Great Britain as shown in 1889 when he, with Sir William Ramsay and others, secured a government grant of £15,000 for university colleges. He also aimed much of his published work at students and teachers, such as "Hints on Teaching Chemistry" (1895).
Posts held by Tilden included President of the Chemical Section of the British Association, President of the Institute of Chemistry, and treasurer and then President of the Chemical Society. He received a knighthood in 1909.
The prize was established through a bequest from Dame Julia Mary Tilden. In 2021, the purposes of this Trust were amended, and remaining monies were combined with other generous bequests and donations to become part of the RSC Recognition Fund.