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Tribute paid to former Strathclyde Deputy Principal

View of John Anderson Campus from the north

Tribute has been paid to a former Deputy Principal of the University of Strathclyde, who has died at the age of 88.

Professor Alastair North OBE served as Vice-Principal at Strathclyde from 1976 to 1980 and as Deputy Principal from 1980 to 1981. He spent 16 years at the University in a career spanning more than four decades, during which he also worked in the USA and Thailand.

Professor North was an internationally renowned figure in chemistry and polymer science, gaining numerous honorary degrees and serving on advisory committees.

He was a hugely accomplished scientist who made a considerable mark on his field of chemistry over nearly half a century. His achievements at Strathclyde and elsewhere made him a greatly respected figure in higher education.

Professor David Littlejohn, who was a student in the Chemistry department in the 1970s, has fond memories of Professor North.

He said: “Alastair was a wonderful and inspiring lecturer who could give complete undergraduate courses in polymer chemistry without the aid of notes. The research group he established was one of the cornerstones of Chemistry’s success in the 1970s and 1980s, all the more remarkable considering his service to the University during this period as head of department and then a senior officer.

"Although Alastair left Strathclyde in 1983, he kept in close contact with colleagues at the university over many years and was always available to provide advice, whether it be on science or university leadership.”

Born in Aberdeen in 1932, Professor North attended the city’s Grammar School, where he became Modern Dux and Gold Medal Winner, as well as winning honours for rugby and athletics. He went on to study Chemistry at the University of Aberdeen, gaining a first class honours degree in 1954 and winning the Center Gold Medal in Chemistry. Researching polymer kinetics, he began a PhD at the University of Birmingham but completed it after returning to Aberdeen alongside his supervisor, Professor George Burnett.

Professor North spent a year as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where he developed his interest in diffusion-controlled radical reactions, before receiving an ICI post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Liverpool in 1958. The following year, he was appointed Lecturer in Liverpool’s Department of Inorganic, Physical and Industrial Chemistry.

Professor North received the Faraday Society’s Marlow Medal for early-career physical chemistry researchers in 1965 and, two years later, was appointed as Burmah Professor of Physical Chemistry at Strathclyde, where he then established a flourishing research group in polymer chemistry. He progressed to become Head of the Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry and was Dean of the School of Chemical and Materials Sciences from 1972 to 1975, before his appointments as Vice-Principal and Deputy Principal.

During Professor North’s years at Strathclyde, his polymer science research predominantly concerned the effects of molecular motion in plastics and rubbers. He also took a considerable interest in science education and held a number of appointments with committees and advisory bodies, most notably the Science and Engineering Research Council and the Scottish Central Committee for Science, which was responsible to the Secretary of State for the science curriculum in Scottish schools.

In 1983, Professor North was appointed as President of the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), an international postgraduate university of technology based in Bangkok. During his 13-year leadership, the institute doubled in size and in programme coverage. He retired in 1996 but retained a Visiting Professorship at Mahidol University in Bangkok and remained an Executive Director of AIT’s Alumni Network until 2001.

In addition to his OBE, Professor North was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences and received national awards from France and Belgium. He also received the Prasidda Prabala Gorkha Dakshin Bahu of Nepal.

In addition to Strathclyde, Professor North received honorary degrees from AIT, the University of Aberdeen, Ramkhamhaeng University, the Technical University of Lodz and the Institut National Polytechnique de Toulouse.

Professor North is survived by his second wife, Suwan, four sons, two daughters, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.