Sir John Meurig Thomas awarded Royal Society’s Royal Medal 2016
Sir John Meurig Thomas HonFREng FRS FLSW, Founding Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales, has been awarded the Royal Society’s 2016 Royal Medal in Physical Sciences for his pioneering work within catalytic chemistry, in particular on single-site heterogeneous catalysts, which have had a major impact on green chemistry, clean technology and sustainability.
The three Royal Medals, also known as the Queen’s Medals, are awarded annually by the Sovereign on the recommendation of the Council of the Royal Society. The Medals are awarded for the most important contributions to scientific advancement in the areas of physical, biological and applied sciences. The other two medallists in 2016 are Professor Elizabeth Robertson FRS (University of Oxford) and Professor John Goodby FRS (University of York).
The Royal Medals were founded by HM King George IV in 1825. An early recipient of a Royal Medal was Michael Faraday (in 1835), who made ground breaking contributions to electromagnetism and electrochemistry, and on whom Sir John has written a biography: Michael Faraday and the Royal Institution: The Genius of Man and Place.
Sir John is renowned for his work in the science of catalysts and solid state chemistry. The production chain of many modern materials and chemicals involves catalysts — substances that speed up chemical reactions, but use less energy and do not get used up themselves. John has led the way in developing ‘green’ catalysts to make chemical processes less polluting and more efficient.
Sir John pioneered the use of technologies like electron microscopy and neutron diffraction to ‘see’ how minuscule surface features of catalysts affect chemical reactions. He has particular expertise in heterogeneous catalysts — ones that are in a different phase to the reacting chemicals, such as a solid material that catalyses reactions of liquids.
Sir John began his academic life at the University of Wales, Swansea, and he is the first graduate of the University to receive a Royal Medal. Sir John has further connections to many Welsh Universities, including working for the University of Wales Bangor, being a former Head of Chemistry at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, being a former Deputy Pro-Chancellor of the University of Wales and currently holding an Honorary Distinguished Professorship of Materials Chemistry at Cardiff University.
Sir John was director of the Royal Institution from 1986-1991 and has further been Head of the Department of Physical Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, and later Master of Peterhouse College. Sir John was knighted in 1991 for his services to chemistry and the popularisation of science.