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My Cardiff

Professor Bryan Jones

Bryan Jones, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the University of Toronto was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by Cardiff in 2007. He reminisces about some of his experiences in Cardiff and their subsequent influences on him.

Professor Bryan Jones

Professor Bryan Jones

I came to University College, Cardiff (as it was then) in 1952, at the age of seventeen. Having been born and brought up in rural North Wales, basically in war time, I had seldom been to any city, and I was, and still am, totally captivated by Cardiff. I spent six very happy years here. 

Everyday life was not easy at that time, still with post war rationing that provided only 60 grams of butter and of sugar each week, and no heat in our digs so that even the toilet water froze regularly in winter. We slept with our pyjamas stuffed with newspaper and with the floor rugs over us as well as the bedding.  The food in the Students’ Union in those days was awful but nevertheless, I have only the happiest of memories.

At that time, nearly all the University was located in the beautiful Main building in Cathays Park, and I am so pleased that, while having been thoroughly modernized within, its lovely facade remains unchanged.  I entered the Honours chemistry class, having had an outstanding chemistry teacher and mentor in school who, on learning that I intended to join the Merchant Navy to see the world, persuaded my parents that I must go to university instead.  On registration, I misguidedly elected to take Geography and Metallurgy as my other subjects (there was no school counseling in those days).  During the first week, I was horrified to be summoned to see the Head of Chemistry, Alwyn G. Evans.  He was a very stern man, who told me point blank that my subject choices were ridiculous, and that I was going to take pure maths as my other degree subject and Physics as subsidiary, even though this meant carrying an extra course load because my background was deficient.  I protested, but to no avail since a Department Head had absolute power in those days.  Subsequently, I have been so grateful for this first of my Cardiff mentorships, since it was absolutely the right course combination for my future career.

After my undergraduate degree I did a Ph.D. in organic chemistry with Reg Pinder, my second key Cardiff mentor, who insisted that afterwards I was going to Oxford to do postdoctoral research, when I had been all set to go into the chemical industry. This decision was again crucially important since from Oxford, my subsequent supervisors guided me to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then to Caltech.  While these other institutions played major roles in my development, everything can be traced back to the excellent initial guidance I received at Cardiff.  Furthermore, my interest in the biological chemistry area in which I have spent my research career, began from some of the experiments that I carried out for my Cardiff Ph.D.

After my postdoctoral studies, in 1963 I joined the University of Toronto, where I was able to pursue the biological chemistry research on enzymes that had grown out my initial Cardiff thoughts.  While this was a frontier area at that time, I was fortunate that it turned out to be very productive and satisfying, and that biological chemistry has become a major focus of all major Chemistry departments world wide, including Cardiff. It is also now a key discipline in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.

It has been particularly gratifying to observe Cardiff’s transition from the small college of 1000 students 50 years ago to this large University of 26,000 students, which has an international reputation in so many areas, and which is now one of the top 100 universities in the world.  I am, of course, delighted that Chemistry has shared this growth in numbers and reputation, and also that its state-of-the-art facilities and excellent faculty are still in the same location in the Main Building.  However, my own research laboratory is no more, having been converted into some very nice Faculty offices.

I have been privileged to receive a number of awards in my academic career, but the most valued is the Honorary Fellowship conferred by the University in 2007.  It was deeply moving to visit Cardiff again on that occasion and to have the opportunity to be present at the Graduation Ceremony for Chemistry and other Science graduates, and to recognize that they had all received the best training and education possible in their respective disciplines.  For my part, I wish I could start here all over again!Read more ‘My Cardiff’ Stories…

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