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John Maher, 1938-2011

25 July 2011

Dr John Maher, formerly Senior Lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry at Bristol, has died. Professor Nick Norman remembers ‘a remarkable individual’.

John Maher studied for his BSc and PhD degrees at Imperial College London. He joined the Department of Inorganic Chemistry (as it then was) at the University of Bristol in 1965, becoming a Lecturer in 1985 and then Senior Lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry in 1995. He retired in 2003.

John was a remarkable individual with many and varied interests. In research, he had a particular interest and expertise in electron spin resonance spectroscopy. He was responsible not only for training a generation of students in its use, but also for making crucial contributions to the work of other groups at Bristol investigating electronic and magnetic interactions in transition metal complexes. He was also an expert in the kinetics and mechanism of inorganic reactions, and developed the first infrared stopped flow instrument for measuring the reactions of metal carbonyls – a design which nearly became commercialised – as well as introducing a computer-based kinetics experiment into the second-year undergraduate teaching laboratory, long before such experiments became commonplace.

Indeed, computers and computing were another great interest of John’s, and in many ways he was far ahead of his time. He undertook what must have been some of the first developments of computer-assisted learning (before, I suspect, that term was even invented), which included the Test and Learn package (developed with Jon Sims Williams in Engineering) containing over 1,300 online questions. He was also the first person in Chemistry to have a web page, something I know he was very proud of. The problem then, of course, was that few people had the means to actually view a web page, if indeed they knew what one was, but John went on to play a central role in developing the electronic resources that all of us now take so much for granted. John also made a great contribution to the Department over many years in terms of pastoral care and student welfare, something he always took very seriously.

Socially, John was a keen Morris dancer and a long time member of the Bristol Morris Men; one of my colleagues remembers that, shortly after arriving in Bristol, he was confronted outside the Council House by a painted-faced Morris man who turned out to be John! He was also keen on folk music and had an abiding love of real ale.

John is survived by his wife Geraldine and daughter Joanna.