9 August 2012
Dr Aitken Couper (BSc 1941, PhD 1950), who has died aged 92, was a senior lecturer in the School of Chemistry, and a generous benefactor of the University. Here Brian Vincent, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry and Senior Research Fellow in Chemistry remembers his friend and former teacher.
It is with great sadness we report the death of Dr Aitken Couper on 31 July 2012. Aitken was born in Manchester, of Scottish parents, but as a young boy moved to Bristol, where he attended Clifton College. In 1938 he came to Bristol University to study chemistry, and threw himself into student life. The broadness of his interests is reflected in the diverse range of student societies for which he served as secretary: from the student Christian movement and the drama society to cross country and the spelaeological (caving) society. During the Second World War he served as a signals officer in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and after the war returned to Bristol to do a PhD with Dr Dan Eley (later Professor of Physical Chemistry at Nottingham University).
Aitken was appointed to the University of Bristol staff shortly after completing his PhD in 1950. In his early days he was very much involved with the teaching of biochemistry (before there was a separate department in that field). Later, he was strongly involved, along with Professors Douglas Everett and Ron Ottewill, in setting up the MSc course in Surface Chemistry and Colloids in 1964. He served for a period as undergraduate dean in the Faculty of Science, and was a leading light in the Bristol Scientific Club. He retired in 1985 as a senior lecturer.
Several years ago, Aitken and his wife, Mary, moved to Cheshire to be nearer to their son and his family. Sadly, Mary died soon after, but Aitken kept going, sustained by his local church and social activities – and by his long-term interest in repairing clocks and watches. When he attended the summer Alumni meeting in 2010 he was the oldest former Bristol student there, and was delighted to stay again in his old hall of residence, Wills.
Aitken was widely read, an authority on many aspects of science and a great raconteur. He will be sadly missed as a great teacher and good friend by many of us who worked with him. We extend out sincere condolences to his family.