Department of Chemistry   University of Oxford


R J P Williams


Professor R.J.P. (Bob) Williams was born in 1926.  He studied at Merton College, Oxford for his B.A. and D.Phil (1944-1950).  His Part II and D.Phil supervisor was Dr. H.M.N.H. Irving and the subject matter was his life-long interest in the complex chemistry of metal ions in biological systems.  He spent his post doc year with Prof A. Tiselius in the Biochemistry Laboratory at Uppsala, Sweden.  He returned to Merton College as a Junior research fellow (1951-1955) and subsequently joined Wadham College as a Fellow and Tutor and a University Demonstrator (Lecturer) in the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory (1955- 1966).  In 1966 after a year at Harvard Medical School he returned to Oxford as a Tutor in Biochemistry (1966-1974).  In l972 he became the Napier Royal Society Research Professor while remaining a Fellow at Wadham.  He retired in 1993 and held an Emeritus Fellowship and Professorship. In addition, Williams was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2010 New Year Honours for services to the community in North Oxford.

During the course of his Part II work the Irving-Williams series of the stabilities of complex ions, which is of paramount importance in both non-living and living systems, was discovered. Throughout his career he pioneered the field of Bio-Inorganic Chemistry, especially concerning the role of calcium as a biological messenger, and contributed substantially to our understanding of the evolution of life. Williams was a founder member of the Oxford Enzyme group in which he and his colleagues devised many new methods for the study of in vitro and in vivo biological systems, especially using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

His honours included membership of The Royal Society (1972) and of four foreign national academies.  He was awarded medals by The Chemical Society (3 times), The Biochemical Society (3), The Royal Society (2) and the International Biochemical Society.  He held honorary degrees from Larvae, Leicester, Keele, Lisbon and East Anglia universities.  He was elected a Foreign Member of the Swedish, Portuguese, Czechoslovakian and Belgian Science Academies.  He was given numerous titled and plenary lectures all over the world. The R.J. P. Williams Lectureship was established in this department in his honour in 2003.

Photo credit: Keith Waters 2006


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