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Obituary: Jim Hanson (1937-2018)

Chemistry professor Jim Hanson, who died suddenly on 13 September at the age of 81, made major contributions to the study of naturally occurring organic compounds.

Jim, who came to the then new University of Sussex in 1964, had a significant influence on  the teaching of chemistry, nationally and internationally, and on the development and reputation of the University.

After graduating with a first class degree from Oxford, he worked for a few years at the prestigious ICI laboratory at The Frythe , near Welwyn Garden City, on a group of plant growth promoters, originally extracted from a fungus. He then completed a PhD with Nobel Prizewinner Sir Derek Barton at Imperial College.

He continued his work on plant growth promoters at Sussex and, in around 600 scientific papers, elucidated some of the extraordinarily complex transformations involved in the synthesis of chemical compounds in plants and fungi. His work has applications in agriculture, drug manufacture and biotechnology. His scientific contacts with Sir John Cornforth at Shell may have influenced the future Nobel Laureate to move to Sussex.

Jim was a deeply committed teacher. Over 50 years, hundreds of those studying chemistry, medicinal chemistry and biochemistry were inspired by his knowledge and enthusiasm.

He was particularly interested in laboratory classes and spent many hours developing exercises that allowed students both to perfect their techniques and to experience at first hand the thrill of discovering something new.

He became a diligent assessor for practical courses validated by the Royal Society of Chemistry and for qualifications awarded by the Chemical Society of Sri Lanka.

For many years he held the office of Sub-Dean in the School of Chemistry and Molecular Sciences, where he was responsible for student welfare and academic progress and for giving help to those in difficulty.

He served on the editorial boards of several journals and recently became a senior editor of the Journal of Chemical Research, where he maintained the highest standards of integrity, checking detailed experimental data to ensure that conclusions were correctly drawn.

He served on the Science and Engineering Research Council’s Biology Advisory Panel and on one of the CASE Panels.

Jim’s main interests, beside chemistry, were his family, gardening, music and the 12th-century Grade 1 listed church of St James at Ashurst in West Sussex. He was organist there for 46 years and at the time of his death was a churchwarden, formally responsible for the fabric.

Professor Douglas Young and Dr David Smith     

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Posted on behalf of: Chemistry
Last updated: Friday, 12 October 2018

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