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                 The        cky Chemist





                 Professor Graham Richards CBE, one of the most successful scientists
                 and entrepreneurs of his generation, reflects on a remarkable career in
                 an address to alumni at Salters’ Hall.



                                                                  I went up to Brasenose in 1958 and thus started my
                                                                  Part II in 1961. By sheer luck my project involved me
                                                                  doing some difficult integrals and I was one of the small
                                                                  number of lazy people around at the time who realized
                                                                  that any integrals could be done numerically using the
                                                                  new-fangled computer. Thus I became one of the first
                                                                  chemists to use the computer although neither my
                                                                  supervisor nor any of the older research students in the
                                                                  group had ever used the machine and everyone knew
                                                                  that computers had no future, especially in chemistry.
                                                                  That computer was a Ferranti Mercury, at the time the
                                                                  best computer in the world and boasted a 32K memory
                                                                  and was the size of a house. It was on that machine
                                                                  that the crystal structures of Dorothy Hodgkin were
                                                                  produced.

                                                                  Finishing a DPhil in 1964 was really lucky as the foolish
                                                                  government created several new universities all at
                 All of us who read chemistry at Oxford were in many   the same time and the existing ones doubled in size.
                 ways lucky. Apart from the intrinsic interest of the   Jobs were very easy to get and so I soon had my own
                 subject, it sits in the middle of the scientific spectrum so   research group and did accurate theoretical calculations
                 that one also learns a lot of physics and biology. Perhaps   on diatomic molecules.
                 even more fortunate is the fact that it is almost unique in
                 preparing one for a future career. Of all disciplines it is   Then out of the blue I received a letter from Anthony
                 the most related to the real world. Britain is still a major   Roe who was working with Jim Black (later the Nobel
                 force in chemical, pharmaceutical and energy industries   prizewinner Sir James Black) at the pharmaceutical
                 in a way that is not true of physics-based industries. The   company Smith Kline & French, seeking inhibitors of
                 subject is quantitative enough for it to be an excellent   histamine in the gut. Anthony enclosed a theoretical
                 background for the financial world and with the growth   paper which suggested that the two activities of
                 of importance of intellectual property, law is also an   histamine were related to there being two conformers
                 attractive future.                               of the molecule and I was asked my opinion of the
                                                                  paper, being one of the few people at that time in the
                  As well as having this background, perhaps the most   UK doing theoretical calculations. I was not impressed
                 important thing which influences one’s career is luck. I   by the theory but it could have been true, and so began
                 want to illustrate this by showing just how big a part luck   a collaboration which quite quickly transformed my
                 played in my own career.                         research from small molecules into using computers to
                  I was lucky to get to Oxford given my own background.   aid drug discovery.
                 My mother was one of 14 children and left school at the   As computers developed and computer graphics
                 age of 11. Fortunately I went to one of the Direct Grant   became possible, my work attracted more and more
                 schools before that excellent system was abolished.   interest from the pharmaceutical industry.
                 My next bit of luck was missing National Service by
                 one day. At the time, foolishly, I was disappointed   The next step was bad luck. In 1988 my then wife died
                 having been set to go into the Royal Marines. As it was,   of cancer. The day after her funeral I rang my former
                                                                  student Tony Marchington and said ‘Tony, you know




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              Periodic       The Magazine of the Department of Chemistry
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