Professor Andrew Pelter

Elected: 2012

Area(s): Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine & Mathematics

Specialist Subject(s): Chemistry - Organic

Andrew Pelter, Professor Emeritus of Swansea University, died on March 16, 2019 at the age of 87. He was born in London on November 20, 1931 and studied chemistry at Bristol University, where he also gained his PhD degree. He then joined the group of J. W. Cornforth (who went on to receive the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1975 and was knighted in 1977) at the Medical Research Council, and this collaboration was a major influence on Andrew’s professional development. He started his independent academic career at Manchester University, where he collaborated initially with another great Australian chemist, A. J. Birch, while also continuing to interact with Cornforth. He was rapidly promoted to a senior lectureship and established the independent research lines that would be prominent for the rest of his career – the study of oxygen heterocycles/natural products and the application of boron reagents in organic synthesis.

Among Andrew’s many contributions to oxygen heterocycle chemistry during his Manchester period, he made significant advances in the application to structure elucidation of physical/spectroscopic techniques such as mass spectrometry and solvent shifted nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and used such techniques in helping solve the structures of many natural products. In the boron chemistry area he became interested in organoboron reactions and his group initiated and developed the field of electrophile-induced rearrangement reactions of unsaturated organoborates. The first publication in this area, involving synthesis of ketones from trialkylcyanoborates, attracted immediate international attention, including from leading organoboron scientist H. C. Brown (who went on to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1979 for his work on hydroboration and the applications of organoboranes). Brown visited Manchester to meet Andrew and the two became long term friends.

In 1971 Andrew moved to University College of Swansea (now known as Swansea University) as Professor of Organic Chemistry, where he remained until his retirement in 1999, after which he became Emeritus Professor. During his time in Swansea, he served periods as Head of the Chemistry Department and as Vice Principal of the University, and it was at Swansea that he built his international research reputation. Throughout his career, he developed original research programs in synthetic organic chemistry, building on his oxygen heterocycle and organoboron work. His boron research was recognized in the awarding of the Tilden Medal of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 1981. Altogether, his scientific contributions were reported in over 300 papers and reviews, and he also wrote several chapters and co-authored a book (Borane Reagents, with H. C. Brown and K. Smith).

The impact of Andrew’s work on synthetic organic chemistry was substantial. Also, he built up a high-quality organic chemistry unit at Swansea and attracted eminent scientists such as H. C. Brown and A. Suzuki (who also went on to win the Nobel Prize in 2010) to spend extensive periods as visiting professors there. His reputation attracted many students from the UK and abroad, as well as postdoctoral workers from, for example, Europe, the USA, India, Japan and the Middle East.

Andrew was a consummate professional scientist and joined his professional body, then known as the Royal Institute of Chemistry, in 1958, gaining the recognition of Fellowship (FRIC) in 1976. He was also elected to Fellowship of the Learned Society of Wales in 2012 for his scientific contributions. However, he was also a more widely cultured person, and in his retirement found time to write poetry and short stories, often related to World War 2. He was married three times, most recently to Susan Smith on 22 January 1994. He was able, with Susan, to celebrate his silver wedding anniversary this year. He has children from all three marriages and is survived by his four daughters and a son as well as by his wife.


Prepared by Professor Keith Smith FRSC FLSW