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Harry Francis West Taylor (1923-2002)


H. F. W. Taylor, energetic, forthright and an enthusiastic supporter of careers for women long before this became PC, was always known as 'Hal' to his colleagues and friends. His scientific career spanned over fifty years and saw great changes in crystallography, from home-made equipment and Beevers-Lipson strips to automatic diffractometers and high-powered computers.

He began his studies at the U. of Nottingham, then Birkbeck College, London (1948 - 1953), which provided a uniquely stimulating environment, in large part due to the presence of the late J. D. Bernal. While there, he worked on a range of topics using methods and equipment that were incredibly primitive by today's standards. He used to recount that his introduction to crystallography commenced by being told by Bernal to build his own film cassette for a single crystal camera from a tin can and bicycle clips.

In 1953, he was offered a permanent post in the Chemistry Dept at Aberdeen U., where he remained until his retirement. On arrival there, his interests turned to mineralogy and the crystal structures of the naturally occurring calcium aluminate and silicate hydrates, especially as a route to elucidating the structures of the poorly-crystallised cement phases. In addition to solving many crystal structures by x-ray crystallography, he quickly realised the potential of electron microscopy and diffraction. With the late J. A. Gard, he solved mineral structures for which only poorly-crystallised or disordered minerals or fine-grained synthetics were available.

Hal became interested in topotactic reactions in various structures, particularly silicates; I was one of his first research students, and was privileged to work with him on this. He was a stimulating supervisor, and during that time we - following the string-and-sealing-wax tradition - built apparatus to do the work and succeeded in studying a number of mineral transitions.

The advent of automatic diffractometers and high-powered computers opened a new world to Hal. No longer was peering at spots on film to gauge their intensity followed by laborious calculations: Hal seized on the advances with gusto, and became an enthusiastic computer programmer.

Hal was an excellent and inspiring supervisor. His enthusiasm for crystallography was unbounded and he gave unstintingly of his time and intellect to others. He regularly attended crystallography meetings, both national and international, and I remember many stimulating discussions arising from these. He served on the committee of the Crystallography Group of the Inst. of Physics (before the days of the BCA!).

Hal also contributed to undergraduate teaching, assuming a full share of lecturing, tutorials and laboratory work.

Hal was a clear and careful writer. He edited a multi-authored two-volume book on cement chemistry, which appeared in 1964. Writing his own book on the subject had to wait until later, but the first edition (1990) and fully revised second edition (1997) have probably become the most widely read single text on cement. The book has been translated into several languages and, moreover, several pirate editions - perhaps the ultimate accolade of a successful science book - were also made!

Hal served a term as head of department, 1977 - 1980, conscientiously but without great enthusiasm; administration held no charms for him, and it was increasingly a time of stringency and retrenchment within the University. After the completion of a term as head of department, 1977 - 1980, he took partial and later full retirement from Aberdeen, to pursue research and writing. A series of honorary Professorships followed, first at the Imperial College, London and subsequently at Leeds.

Formal retirement meant more time for mountaineering - a lifelong interest that began in Wales and subsequently encompassed all the Scottish mountains and many of the European alpine peaks as well as others in the Americas, Asia and Africa. He remained in excellent physical condition until late in life, when increasing heart trouble forced an operation. He remained professionally active and only succumbed - quite suddenly - while journeying home from a meeting abroad.

Hal's career attracted many honours and distinctions. He was on the editorial boards of numerous journals, and was a Fellow of many organizations including the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He received the Kroll medal and prize of the Inst. of Materials and The Copeland award of the American Ceramic Soc. amongst many distinctions.

We shall remember him for his unbounded enthusiasm and zest for life, his inspiration of students and colleagues, generosity in sharing ideas, and - on a personal level - his wonderful down-to-earth sense of humour. We miss him greatly.

He is survived by his wife, Joan, and a son, Robin, to whom we extend our deepest sympathies.

Lesley Dent Glasser