Professor Anthony Ledwith, CBE. FRS, DSc


Chancellor - In the roller-coaster ride of the British economy in the last few decades there have been tremendous changes in the manufacturing and service sectors. Sometime in the 1980s the dreadful day arrived when UK plc became a net importer of manufactured goods for the first time in our modern history. But in all this turmoil the great success of the chemical industry and the chemistry research community stands out. Of course they too have undergone many changes, but their continuing major contributions to our economy and our everyday life make it all the more important that we protect and provide for them. The success of the pharmaceutical industry alone is worth a couple of pence on the standard rate of income tax; 30% or so of the world’s top drugs were discovered in the UK; 20% of the world’s flat glass is manufactured by one company — Pilkington’s; and we are in the Premier League in diverse areas such as liquid crystals, genetic profiling, polymers, biosensors — and so on. This success, which as you know, Chancellor, crucially includes chemical engineering as well as laboratory chemistry, is underpinned by three factors - a constant stream of excellent graduates and Ph.Ds., dynamic research programmes in both industry and higher education, and an active and evolving professional body which helps to bind together scientists with all these varied interests.

Today the University honours a man who, quite astonishingly, has played leading roles in all three of these critical functions. Anthony Ledwith was born in the same year as polythene was born, an appropriate start for a distinguished polymer chemist. He was brought up in the war-time and post-war years in Wigan (still his home), and took an external London degree at the local Mining and Technical College. In recent decades we have become familiar with all our many universities awarding their own degrees. But in earlier years many colleges — including Loughborough, of course — awarded London External degrees, the standard of which was at least as high as that of London’s internal degrees, and was certainly very formidable. In Tony’s case his success took him on to postgraduate work at Liverpool University, where he obtained his Ph.D. in 1957. His professional career started with a Lectureship at Liverpool, and he was promoted to Senior Lecturer, Reader and Professor in turn, becoming Campbell Brown Professor of Industrial Chemistry in 1980: he had already received his D.Sc. in 1970. He believes strongly that Chemistry cannot be compartmented into rigid Organic, Inorganic etc areas, and his own distinguished research very much reflects this, as it covers large areas of photochemistry, polymer chemistry and organic chemistry. When our teeth are filled, not with messy mercury amalgams but with much superior photochemically cured polymer resins, that is just one of many areas where Tony’s work has been effective. He is the author of over 200 research papers and books, has been Visiting Professor and an invited Lecturer many times over in Europe and the USA, and has served on several government committees.

In 1984 he left academic life to become Deputy Director, then Director, of Group Research at Pilkington plc, world famous makers of glass and other products. The research groups he controlled worked in many areas, but it is not surprising to find that polymer coatings for glass were of particular interest to him. On retirement from Pilkington’s he returned to higher education, becoming head of the big Chemistry Department at Sheffield University in 1996. Now, however, his undiminished energies are divided between two of the most important posts that UK Chemistry has to offer. Simultaneously he is a very active and reforming President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, with not far short of 50,000 members world-wide, and Chairman of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which as we know so well distributes all-important research funds for the support of all the major physical sciences and engineering. In both these roles his vision of Chemistry as a quite tremendous, exciting and multi-disciplinary subject will bear much fruit and help to secure the future of that crucial activity within our society.

Tony Ledwith is a family man with four children — his wife is here today to share this occasion — and amazingly he finds time for other interests too. Like many chemists, he is an enthusiast for music, having established a Boys’ Club band in Wigan while still a teenager. Remarkably, for someone born and living in Wigan, he is interested in football as played with a spherical ball, and it is even rumoured that he supports Bolton Wanderers, which shows that even the very best of us are allowed minor misjudgements. A much travelled man, he nonetheless found time a few years ago to act as one of the External Examiners for the undergraduate Chemistry courses here at Loughborough. Some of us remember so well our delightfully robust conversations over lunch, in which we would set the world of chemistry to rights, before in the afternoon Tony would sit down to examine our students with his very characteristic kindness and great good humour.

Professor Ledwith was awarded the CBE in 1995 for services to science, and in the same year his tremendous work gained him election as a Fellow of the Royal Society. His two current and crucial positions make him, quite simply, Britain’s top chemist.

Therefore, Chancellor, it is my delight and privilege to present to you and to the whole University Professor Anthony Ledwith, eminent chemist, Commander of the British Empire, and Fellow of the Royal Society, for the degree of Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa.


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s.p.rowbottom@lboro.ac.uk, July 1999. Copyright © Loughborough University. All rights reserved.