Reporter 442, 8 November 1999

Resolution adopted by the Senate (20 October 1999) on the retirement of
Professor John Griffiths

John Griffiths obtained a BSc in Chemistry at Liverpool and stayed there for his PhD, working with C F H Tipper on the low temperature autoignition of organic compounds, a subject to which he was to devote his research career. He came to Leeds in 1967, first as a teaching fellow and then as Brotherton Research Lecturer before he became a lecturer in 1973. He was awarded a DSc by the University of Liverpool in 1989.

John rapidly established himself as an experimentalist of considerable skill and imagination and he developed a research programme on thermokinetic oscillations in oxidising hydrocarbons that rapidly won international recognition. These were the early days of oscillating reactions and there was much to learn, initially from a largely qualitative viewpoint but increasingly with a detailed knowledge and understanding of the molecular processes involved and of the non-linear interactions that drove the macroscopic behaviour. They were heady days with the Leeds group - John with Peter and Brian Gray and later Steve Scott - at the forefront of a new and exciting field. The work was one of the driving forces behind the establishment at Leeds of the Centre for Non-Linear Studies and John has a long and continuing collaboration with Applied Mathematics and Fuel and Energy that derived from this work. It is interesting to see the evolution of John’s work over the years as he developed new techniques to address the fascinating problems found in hydrocarbon oxidation. These involved new techniques for analysing the processes involved at the macroscopic and the molecular level and a combination of numerical and theoretical approaches to the development of an increasingly detailed understanding. John had always understood the power of numerical analysis, indeed his very first paper is on this subject, but the development of new fast methods of numerical integration revolutionised the field and he has exploited that power to great effect, so that he is now a recognised world leader on the development of understanding of these complex processes at the molecular level. In recent years his efforts have been concentrated directly on autoignition, which is related to ‘knock’ in gasoline engines, and, with colleagues in Mechanical Engineering and in Chemistry, he has performed beautiful visualisation experiments of developing flames in his rapid compression machine. He is currently applying laser techniques to augment this work. As always, the experiments are supported by careful theoretical analysis and simulation. John remains a leader in his field and plays a key role in the British Section of the Combustion Institute. The proof of his stature is readily provided by his substantial contributions at the International Symposia of the Combustion Institute. John’s work has been recognised through his promotion to reader in 1989, to Professor of Combustion Chemistry in 1997 and by awards from the Combustion Institute and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

John has always been committed to his students, both graduate and undergraduate, providing understanding and support. His approach to his work is ‘hands-on’ and is typified by his research, where he spends considerable time ‘at the bench’ and runs his own simulations. Inevitably this approach was to prove incompatible with that needed in today’s university with the externally driven emphasis on process at the expense of substance. John grew increasingly dissatisfied and frustrated with the way he had to work and felt that his whole philosophy of teaching and research was compromised. He is taking early retirement at the age of 56, but will continue with research and with some teaching. We hope that he will be able to operate now as he wishes and that he will continue to make his major contributions to our understanding of autoignition. We also wish John and his wife Sue health and happiness over the many years to come.

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