American Philosophical Society
Member History

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1. Mathematical and Physical Sciences[X]
102. Chemistry and Chemical Biochemistry[X]
1Name:  Sir John Meurig Thomas
 Institution:  The Royal Institution of Great Britain & University of Cambridge
 Year Elected:  1993
 Class:  1. Mathematical and Physical Sciences
 Subdivision:  102. Chemistry and Chemical Biochemistry
 Residency:  International
 Living? :   Deceased
 Birth Date:  1932
 Death Date:  November 13, 2020
Professor Sir John Meurig Thomas was born in December 1932 in South Wales. The son of a coalminer, Sir John's interest in science was greatly aroused as a teenager when his physics mistress talked about the life and work of Michael Faraday, who has remained one of his scientific heroes. He graduated with a Bachelor's degree from the University of Wales, Swansea, and completed his Ph.D. at the University of London. His first academic appointment (1958) was at the University of Wales, Bangor, where inter alia he demonstrated the profound influence that dislocations and other structural imperfections exert upon the chemical, electronic and surface properties of solids. He became Professor and Head of Chemistry at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth in 1969, where he broadened his interests in solid-state, surface and materials chemistry and pioneered the application of electron microscopy in chemistry. In 1978 he became Head of the Department of Physical Chemistry, University of Cambridge, where his development of new techniques in solid-state and materials science and his design and synthesis of new catalysts progressed greatly. From 1986-91 he was Director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, London, where he occupied the chair that was created for Michael Faraday. He was also Director of the Davy Faraday Research Laboratory. At Cambridge he extended his earlier electron microscopic and surface studies of mineral and intercalates to encompass the synthesis and structural determination of zeolitic materials by a combination of solid-state NMR, neutron scattering and real-space imaging. At London he added synchrotron radiaton to his armoury and devised techniques which combine X-ray spectroscopy and high-resolution X-ray diffraction to determine the atomic structure of active sites of solid catalysts under operating conditions. He has also designed new microporous and mesoporous catalysts, onto the inner surfaces of which active centres (for isomerizations, epoxidation, chiral hygrogenations and chiral amination) were grafted from organo-metallic precursors. He has also devised molecular sieve catalysts that convert n-alkanes to n-alkanol, cyclohexane or cyclohexene to adipic acid, n-hexane to adipic acid and cyclohexanone to its oxime and caprolactam, all in air under solvent-free conditions. One of his inventions, the single-step, solvent-free catalytic synthesis of ethyl acetate, is the basis of a 220,000 ton p.a. plant in the U.K., the largest of its kind in the world. One of his most significant recent catalytic innovations is the boosting of the enamtioselectivity of asymmetric organometallic catalysts by constraining them within mesoporous supports. This has been multiply patented (2003) by German industry as a means of producing enantiomerically enriched hydroxycarboxylic esters. He is the author of over 950 research papers and twenty patents, of two definitive university texts on heterogeneous catalysis (1967 and 1997), and of Michael Faraday and the Royal Institution: The Genius of Man and Place (1991; Japanese translation, 1994; Italian translation, 2006), and co-editor of many other monographs. His awards include the Davy Medal and the Bakerian and Rutherford Lectureships of the Royal Society, the Faraday Medal, Longstaff Medal and four others of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Messel Gold Medal of the Society of Chemical Industry, the Semenov Centenary Medal and the Kapitza Gold Medal of the Russian Academy of Science, the Willard Gibbs Gold Medal of the American Chemical Society, the Royal Medal (Queen's Medal), and the first recipient of the Award for Creative Research in Homogeneous and Heterogeneous Catalysis, also of the American Chemical Society. In 1995 the European Federation of Catalyst Societies (EFCATS), representing 24 national societies, chose him to give the first series of François Gault Lectures at 12 centers in 6 European countries. An FRS since 1977, in 1999 he was elected Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering for work that "has profoundly added to the science-base of heterogeneous catalysis leading to the commercial exploitation of zeolites through engineering processes". He was a Foreign Member or Hon. Foreign Fellow of fifteen other national and international academies and holds numerous honorary doctorates from Australian, British, Canadian, Chinese, Dutch, Egyptian, French, Italian, Spanish and U.S. universities. In 2000 The Electron Microscopy and Microanalysis Society of America held a symposium in his honour at their annual convention in Philadelphia, In September 2002 an International Symposium of Catalysis was held in London by the Royal Society of Chemistry to celebrate his 70th birthday. Stanford University awarded him the Linus Pauling gold medal in 2003 for his contributions to the advancement of science, and the Italian Chemical Society presented him with its Guilio Natta Gold Medal for meritorious work in catalysis. In 2007 the International Precious Metal Institute awarded him its Distinguished Achievement Award for "pioneering contributions to the field of heterogeneous catalysis using precious metals over a long, distinguished career." In 2010, he was awarded three lectureships: the Bragg Prize lecturship of the British Crystallographic Association, the Sven Beggren Prize lectureship of the Royal Lund Physiographic Academy, and the Ertl Prize lectureship of the Max Planck Gessellschaft. One of the world's most highly cited chemists, Sir John was founding co-editor-in-chief of Catalysis Letters (1987), Topics in Catalysis (1992), and Current Opinion in Solid-State and Materials Science (1996). He has done much to popularize science amoung young people and adult lay audiences, giving numerous lecture-demonstrations, radio, television, and national Portrait Gallery talks: his Royal Institution Christmas Lectures on crystals were broadcast on BBC national TV in 1987. He served (1982-85) as a science advisor in the U.K. Government Cabinet Office Committee, as Chairman of CHEMRAWN (chemical research applied to world needs), and Trustee of the Science Museum and of the Natural History Museum, London. In 1991 he was knighted for his services to chemistry and the popularization of science. In recognition of his contributions to geochemistry, a new mineral, meurigite, was name after him in 1995. John Meurig Thomas was Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the Davy Faraday Research Laboratory, the Royal Institution of Great Britain, London, and Honorary Professor at the Department of Materials Science, University of Cambridge. From 1993-2002 he was Master of Peterhouse, the oldest college in the University of Cambridge. He is Vice President of the Cambridge University Musical Society. Sir John died on November 13, 2020, at age 87.
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