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Obituary: Kenneth Seddon OBE 1950-2018

Former students and colleagues at the University of Sussex have paid tribute to eminent chemist Ken Seddon, who died on 21 January.

A Reader in Chemistry at Sussex, Ken arrived in 1982 from Oxford as one of the ‘new blood’ staff, whose posts were created to mitigate the retirement of the original cohort who had been recruited in the 1960s.

He instigated research at Sussex in a range of topics in inorganic chemistry, was an enthusiastic teacher and - with a gargantuan laugh – was a lively member of what was then the School of Chemistry and Molecular Sciences (or MOLS).

Ken taught John Spencer when he was an undergraduate at Sussex in the late 1980s. Now Professor of Bioorganic Chemistry at Sussex, John recalls: “A Scouser, with trademark sideburns, students often praised Ken's enthusiasm for laboratory practical classes and the effort he invested into their well-being, something that I can certainly vouch for, having benefited from his invaluable advice and friendliness that certainly turned my life around for the better.”

Dr Alaa Abdul-Sada, currently the Mass Spectroscopy Academic Research Faculties Manager for Chemistry at Sussex, worked with Ken for many years as a DPhil student and as a post-doctoral assistant.

Alaa recalls that Ken often had more than 10 doctoral students at a time, each doing completely different projects.

He says: “Ken possessed a warm and kind personality. He was sociable and had a love for trying international food.

“During the hard times I faced during the Gulf War he was a strong support for me and my family. He helped me pave the way in my career, and always encouraged me to do better and to be the best in my field.

“His input into the fields of green energy and catalysis will be missed.”

Ken left Sussex in 1993 to take up a chair and become director of the Ionic Liquid Laboratories Research Centre at Queen’s University Belfast, where he expanded one of the areas of research that he had begun at Sussex.

Ionic liquids have wide applications in synthesis and catalysis (avoiding oil-based organic solvents), polymer technology, battery design, and treatment of nuclear waste. Ken was author or co-author of more than 700 papers in these areas.

Professor Tom Welton OBE, Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Imperial College, London, says: “At Queen’s, Ken became a key figure in changing ionic liquids’ research from being a quiet academic backwater into a major area for modern chemistry, with thousands of papers published every year.

“It is remarkable how many of today’s established ionic liquids’ researchers had their first paper in the field as the result of a collaboration with Ken.”

Tom, who obtained his BSc from Sussex in 1985 and completed his DPhil (supervised by Ken) in 1990, adds: “Not one to take fools gladly, and certainly a character, Ken was none the less generous and inclusive.”

Posted on behalf of: Chemistry
Last updated: Monday, 5 February 2018


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