The Crystallographic Community

Peter Wheatley (1921 - 1997)

J. Appl. Cryst. (1997). 30, 567-568.

Peter Jaffrey Wheatley, who died on 12 May 1997, had an influential and varied career in physical chemistry, crystallography and structural chemistry. His publications (more than 100 papers and five books), his editorial work for Acta Crystallographica, his teaching, and his classic text Molecular Structure, first published in 1959 and translated into 15 languages, make him a key figure in the development of crystallography from the 1950s.

Peter was nearly a Yorkshireman, born in Cheshire but moving counties as an infant! He was educated in Sheffield before going to Oxford around the start of the war. He had scarcely begun his degree course when, as Bombardier Wheatley, he was sent to the Far Eastern theatre, was captured during the fall of Singapore and survived four terrible years as a prisoner of war. After recovering his health, he returned to Oxford, gained a first in Chemistry in two years, a DPhil in Physical Chemistry within a further two years, and was married to Jo (also from Sheffield). His Thesis had sections on (a) flame propagation and (b) molecular structure, and his second research year was carried out as a Commonwealth Fellow at the University of Minnesota. His distinguished crystallographic career developed at the University of Leeds, where he moved in 1951 and where he wrote the first drafts of Molecular Structure. In 1957, Peter and Jo, now blessed with three daughters, moved to Switzerland, where he worked for nine years in the Laboratories of Monsanto Research S.A. in Zurich.

Following a year as Visiting Professor in Tucson, Arizona, Peter returned to academic life in the UK in 1967, to the Department of Physical Chemistry at Cambridge. Here he ran an active research group, the graduates of which now hold positions all over the world, became a Fellow of Queens' College, and was renowned at both Departmental and College level for his teaching and lecturing. He also served as British Co-editor of Acta Crystallographica from 1969 to 1980, processing a phenomenal number of papers with care, knowledge and not a little tact! Peter was very active in College life being, at various times, Junior Bursar, Senior Bursar and Director of Studies in Natural Sciences at Queens'. He was made a Life Fellow when he retired in 1988. On his retirement Peter joined the Crystallographic Data Centre part-time as the Senior Database Editor who `sorted out' the more complex problems that arose during the CCDC's checking process, leaving only a couple of years ago due to failing health. His contribution at the CCDC was immense, due to his infectious enthusiasm and deep knowledge of his subject.

As a person, Peter was both a very private man, who delighted in his family and the progress of his grandchildren, and also an engaging and humorous companion with an endless capacity to surprise. He always detected and laughed at the absurdities of life, and debunked anything pompous or pretentious. He had a lifelong interest in many sports and played cricket enthusiastically (and extremely capably - as this bowler rapidly came to know!) well into his fifties. Peter was a wonderful colleague and friend and many areas of life are the poorer for his passing.

Frank Allen