In Memoriam: Professor Ian Smith

Many School of Chemistry alumni, former staff and student members will remember with great affection Professor Ian Smith, FRS, who died on 8 November 2016. He was appointed to the Chair of Physical Chemistry here in 1985, made Mason Professor in 1991, awarded an FRS in 1995, and was President of the Faraday Division of the Royal Society of Chemistry from 2001 to 2003. He was Head of School from 1989 to 1993, then briefly in 2001. He retired in 2002, but carried out active research and writing for the following c. 12 years.

Portrait photograph of Professor Ian Smith, former Chair of Physical Chemistry at the University of Birmingham

Ian was a superb kineticist. He made fundamental contributions to the subject, with important applications of his work in combustion, astrochemistry and atmospheric chemistry. He was among the first to exploit and develop new spectroscopic techniques and combinations of techniques to measure rate and state-to-state data for elementary processes.

Arguably his most important contribution to science, which will be remembered for decades, will be the project he developed in the late 1980s in Birmingham to extend the measurement of gas-phase rate coefficients down to very low temperatures, as low as 8 K. For certain types of reactions involving free radicals, he discovered that reactions can get faster as the temperature was reduced; this is sometimes called an inverse Arrhenius behaviour. This fact has enormous implications for the subject of astrochemistry, that certain free radicals reactions must be allowed for in the chemical models of how the Universe developed, that evolved from nothing in the 1990s.

Ian's family write: "We have lost a kind and loyal family man, an exceptional scientist and an enthusiastic cricketer. We miss his caring heart, his sharp mind and his cheeky humour."

The family have set up an email address,, to send and receive messages about his passing. This is likely to be published sometime in the next year. Please send comments if you wish to contribute.

Colleagues will also be sad to learn that Ian’s loving wife for 55 years, Sue, died six months later on 17 May 2017. Ian was a remarkable scientist, but much more than that – a devoted husband, father of four and grandfather of 11. He was a man of true integrity, an inspiring teacher and a dear friend to many.

A full memoir for Ian is expected to appear in the Royal Society Biographical Memoirs,  in 2018. If anyone is interested in reading a copy of the near-final document, please email Professor Richard Tuckett at

Professor Richard Tuckett / 5.8.17