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Dr George Dibdin, 1936-2015

17 December 2015

Dr George Dibdin, a member of the MRC Dental Group and an Honorary Research Fellow in the University of Bristol, died on 14 July. Dr Peter Shellis offers a tribute.

George Dibdin joined the Dental Unit of the Medical Research Council in 1966, after obtaining his PhD in physics at Chelsea College of Science and Technology, University of London (now incorporated into King’s College). George had a varied background which provided him with a unique range of skills. He had completed an engineering apprenticeship before embarking on a BSc, and thus was a master of workshop techniques and of electronics. These skills were applied throughout his research career, beginning with his construction of an NMR spectrometer during his postgraduate work on the structure of water, and continuing with many pieces of unique equipment during his work in Bristol.

After joining the MRC Unit, George worked on a range of topics. Principally his work aimed at understanding the production of acid from sugar at the tooth surface and the factors that regulate its build-up in the process of dental caries. His research combined empirical measurements, characterised by tenacity and striving for accuracy, with theoretical analysis. These twin aspects were embodied in a computer model, developed over many years. In its fully developed form this incorporated important algorithms devised by George for accurate modelling of ionic diffusion and other components of the system. The model was later applied to interactions between antibiotics and bacterial films. The fundamental soundness of George’s computer model of dental plaque was demonstrated by the fact that it formed the basis of a much more complete model in 2012: two decades after it was first published.

George approached biological problems with the outlook of a physicist and this provided unique insights that were of great value to all of his colleagues in the Dental Unit and his postgraduate students. I count it a privilege to have been his most frequent collaborator among his immediate colleagues. George brought equal acumen to collaborations with others, both within the Dental Hospital and beyond, notably Professor Colin Dawes (University of Manitoba, Canada) and Dr Euan Pearce (University of Wellington, New Zealand).

George had a very full private life. He was a devoted husband to Susan and father to John and Emily. He was a passionate supporter of the Labour party and a committed member of the congregation of Cotham Parish Church, and devoted many hours of his time to voluntary service for both Labour and the church. His love of music led him to sing often in the University Choir and to apply himself assiduously for many years to learning to play the cello. All who knew him will miss him as a warm, humorous and clever person.

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