Reminiscences

Robert (Roy) Nelson

I was one of John’s earliest PhD students (1956-59) and remember him with great affection. My thesis was ‘The Competitive Chlorination of Hydrocarbons’ and we used gas chromatography (homemade) in all our analysis. As well as a brilliant theoretician, John was one of the best practical operators I have known. All our equipment was glass blown in situ. I was subsequently approached by John in the 1970s to find out if we could make spherical silica and alumina spheres for packing his new HPLC columns. We were using colloidal techniques for preparing nuclear fuels (in UKAEA) at the time and had no difficulty in giving John what he was looking for.

He was a tremendous supervisor, not forcing his ideas but encouraging all the time. He was an all-rounder who greatly enhanced the reputation of the Chemistry Department and the University of Edinburgh.

Lindsay Sawyer

I used my undergrad lecture notes from John Knox when I had to teach thermodynamics to GRSC students at Napier. They were fantastic and by the end of the course I really understood thermodynamics.

Stella & David Rankin

Looking at the pages before this one, I realise that the John I didn’t know – father & grandpa – was

as loved & respected as the one I did know – chemist, inventor, and teacher.

It was a privilege to know him and it has been a privilege today to get to know the family in both areas, his influence lives on.

Thank you John.

Bob Boughtflower

John Knox was a hero to me before I even met him for the first time.

He was a legend in the chromatography community and I tried to live up to him and his reputation as a sort of dress rehearsal to make sure I could meet his expectations in working with him.

I pulled it off, and spent five exciting years (1995-2000) being his “partner in science”, trying our best to demonstrate next-generation capabilities in chromatography performance.

He didn’t disappoint and I learned so much from him at the same time as having the time of my life.

I will miss him terribly, and do… but I’m grateful for the amazing times we had, and thing we did.

He was an amazing, kind and decent man and most people only hope to have experienced a life such as his.

Dr Landells

John (Dr Knox) was one of my first lecturers at Appleton Tower when I started at the University of Edinburgh in the Autumn of 1964.

He was such a thorough chemist and taught me the foundations which lead to not only an honours degree in chemistry but also a PhD. I have kept his lecture notes for all these years and give my own students the advice he gave me all those years ago.

Revise for an exam at least 2 weeks before the exam and spend one hour going through a one hour lecture.

John was a fantastic guy. May he rest in peace.

Prof Lesley Yellowlees

John was the best of scientists and the loveliest of men. I was privileged to have John as my final year supervisor. He was patient, helpful and unfailingly kind. He was always quick to remind me that my project was only worth 20% of my final mark and to make sure I studied my other topics – he therefore would send me away to study – Would reluctantly go and leave the lab – not always I’ll admit to study though. Later he was a great source of advice and support.

Roy C Galloway

I attended John’s Molecular Thermodynamics lectures in my year 3 chemistry in 1967.

Towards the end of my final year I decided that he was so approachable I wanted to continue with a Ph.D. at Edinburgh. My research from 1968-71 was in Gas Kinetics (not chromatography or anchors!).

I entered school teaching in 1972 without having written up and those of you that have tried teaching will know that in the first year or so much of your evenings are spent in lesson preparation. My research work was stuffed in the loft (to be forgotten).

It would have been easy for John to forget about it as well but he wrote me a very supportive letter encouraging me to write up before I forgot all about hydrogen atoms.

I finally submitted in 1974.

P.S. Do they still have the German translation test for Ph.D. students? I think it was my third attempt at it when John told me that Dr Duncan Taylor (catalysis) was in charge – and he has been told who has to pass it!

David Little

I first met John Knox when I was an undergraduate in 66-67. He is one of the few members of staff I can remember taking tutorials (though I did go to others) I remember a quiet speaking man who was obviously very clever but did not blow his own trumpet. He was very self-effacing.

I later read all his articles on anchor research which was published in the sailing magazines. We bought the best anchor his research showed at the time and it was a great improvement. The Knox Anchor was not for sale at that time or we might have bought one.

We have thoroughly enjoyed the day and hearing more about the man, his career, family and hobbies.

Bob Baxter

John Knox was a lovely guy. Polymath, Adventurer and a true friend. I admired him as a scientist. We had a joint interest in sailing. I had an Albacore in the Forth. He had sailed one in the Micah??. He always had to have done something better. WE (John, Malcolm; and later Helen) sailed every year for 12 years – every trip an adventure, something would always go wrong (Engine, steering, sails) but John always had a solution. I will always remember those days on deck in sunshine, rain and sea spray with John Knox the perennial optimist.

Karen Donald

I remember Professor Knox as a solid formidable man to a tender undergraduates thinking!

Had I known about his sailing and canoeing adventure I would have been even more intimidated!

So glad to make the journey to celebrate a man who’s HPLC work was a foundation for all the R&D I performed with my many scientific colleagues at Wellcome Foundation in Kent!

Tom Simpson

First met John as a new UG in 1965 – he was my Director of Studies so probably the first person I ever spoke to in the University of Edinburgh. Spoke to him for about 2 mins in each of the next 3 years as he signed my registration forms. He taught us physical chemistry in first year following Tom Cottrell’s lectures.

Remembering John reminds his third year lectures on statistical mechanics – which I just about understood. Joined the staff 10 years later and got to know him as a wonderfully entertaining colleague. Lots of tales of the annual Pentlands race – after two knee replacements if I recall correctly. I well remember a staff meeting where he was presenting proposals for a new third year course. Did a spectacularly awful job of the p[resentation that was recorded in the minutes as “Prof Knox purported to present the case for the revised third year course” – A polite summary (by Bill Doyle).

But a wonderful man – they do not make them like that anymore.

Poppy Knox (also Jamie, Angus and Lucy)

John was a wonderful father-in-law and Grandfather. We all have many happy memories of our lovely sailing holidays on both Myfanwy and Calona??.

We all joined in with the ‘Knox Anchor’ testing over the years! We even had to take a prototype anchor on a sailing holiday in the Caribbean much to the amusement of our friends!!

Jonny Knox

What a fantastic day and dad would have been so proud of all his colleagues, friends and family. Thanks so much to Eleanor, Colin and all the staff at Edinburgh University.

Sarah Knox

Grandpa was always such a modest man so it was not often that I heard of all his achievements so it feels even more special to celebrate them today. He has inspired a generation of Knoxes (and many others it seems) in so many ways.

I miss him for his sense of adventure, fun and kind personality and I hope that we can all do him proud.

Malcolm Knox

Hi Dad

Many memories sailing and skiing and trips to the Guska? And trips to Longniddry and the anchor experiments. Trips to Coll and the Minch and Islay, you will be missed. All the best, love Malcom.

Jamie Knox

John Knox was my oldest Grandpa,

his giant brain made him a chemistry star,

the Knox equation he made, and an anchor that stayed,

but his family was his best invention by far!

Great day celebrating Grandpa Knox and his many achievements.

Lucy Knox

It has been a wonderful day hearing all about Grandpa Knox’s academic life. He was always a fun and adventurous grandpa, but I have to admit I avoided asking him about Chemistry. I once made the mistake of asking for help age 13 or 14 with my Chemistry homework. 2 hours later we were allowed to leave the study, after having gone back to first principles for all aspects, and not being any closer to finishing my homework.

Although I studied Biology (‘not a real science’) as an undergraduate, I know he was proud of having almost all grandchildren follow his footsteps in science-related careers.

He will continue to inspire us all I am sure!

Rosie Knox

I think I can speak for all the grandchildren when I say that Grandpa is an inspiration. He has installed in all the family a sense of adventure and love for the outdoors. I love learning about the impact he had on not all of us Knoxes but also his colleagues and friends. I hope I can achieve even a fraction of what Gramps achieved in his happy and fulfilled life. Maybe the secret is eating a lot of jam.

 

Bill Vickers (W. H. J. Vickers)

Whilst I have not followed his career since I left Edinburgh University (1957) and Cambridge University (1961) I would like to pay tribute personally to him for the influence and support he gave me.

In the fourth year of my BSc Honours degree I worked on one of his projects under his direct supervision and it was due to him and his support that he recommended me to continue research studies under Prof Norrish at Cambridge University where he had studied for his PhD. Subsequently I did so (and was a member of Pembroke College where he had been a post-graduate student) and received me PhD in 1961).

It was an important decision and period in my life both for the chemistry and my maturing life at Cambridge and I greatly valued the support and encouragement he gave me. The phrasing you used about him as a person and a teacher is so true.

I am pleased that he is being remembered in this way and send best wishes for the occasion.

 

Brenda Dawson

I remember him as a young lecturer in 1953 when I was in the third year. He was, of course, near in age to his students and, as you say, kind and supportive.

As a group (which included my future husband!) we had regular reunions organised by Alex Arbuckle. Our last one, in memory of Christina Miller, sadly, only Alex and I were there. On that occasion we had a tour of the department – so many changes!

It seems that I am the only one left (Alex and several others have developed early signs of senility).

I am fortunate to still enjoy good health but get tired easily (old age!) so, I regret I am not able to accept your kind invitation.

 

Dr Peter Blair

Prof Knox was a fine chap and I am sure you will have an excellent celebration of his life and achievements. I had him for a few lectures and he was always approachable and helpful.

Dr William Duncan

Very pleased that John is being recognised in this way. Although I attended and much enjoyed his lectures on statistical thermodynamics as an undergraduate, it was only when dealing with him later at the RSE, that I began to appreciate how exceptional he was. 

Elizabeth Thom (nee Sheddan)

Dr Knox - as I knew him - was one of the younger lecturers when I did my Chemistry degree between 1965 and 1969. I had him both as lecturer and tutor and do remember him as being one of the favoured members of staff. His lectures were always well attended.

Janet McBride (née Flewett)

I was rather fond of Dr Knox, as I'm sure many of his students were.  He was a Reader in Chemistry when I started my degree in 1971.  I remember with awe his lightning fast mental arithmetic calculations, all done by using approximations.  Those of us with slide rules (it was a long time ago!) could not keep up, and eventually were no more accurate than he was.  My favourite memory of him is from my first practical class as a 4th year student.  We were split into pairs for practicals that term, and I and my partner were assigned to High Pressure Liquid Chromatography.  On the door was the brand new title: Professor Knox. We knocked, the door opened, we chorused gleefully for the first time, "Hello Professor Knox", and were met with a not-very-well suppressed grin.  We were very pleased for him.

I do hope the celebration of his life and work is a great success, and that it serves as a reminder, not only of a great scientist, but also of a lovely man.

Dr Alex Ekström

I had the pleasure of having dinner with Prof John Knox and his wife Josephine in 2016 while I was doing my PhD. We had just used his boat (complete with eponymous Knox anchor) to compete in the Scottish Islands 3 Peaks Race, a barbaric cocktail of fell running and sailing - the type of pursuit that the eminent Professor thoroughly approved of. Over dinner we were treated to outrageous stories of his bygone boat- and mountain-based adventures with family in tow (sometimes literally), leaving us all in stitches. The man was a legend and I'm very grateful that our paths crossed, if only briefly.

Dr Robert Dobbie ‘Bob’

I well remember John Knox. He lectured to us on several occasions when I was a Chemistry student at Edinburgh from 1959-1963. He formed a strong bond with us, showing empathy and understanding as we progressed in thermodynamics under his expert guidance. He was admired and respected by his students.

The tradition in these days was to have the final lecture to the 4th year class treated less seriously than normal. I recall Dr Knox entering into the spirit of this. It was clear that he enjoyed the occasion as much as any of his students.

One feature of his lectures, which frequently included algebraic manipulation to derive equations, was his tendency to get the sign wrong, which became something the more alert of us looked for, and drew his attention to.  But was this simply a ruse to make sure we were attentive?

Gordon McHattie

I studied at Edinburgh from 1947-51 and then for my PhD until 1954.

I very much enjoyed meeting John on the occasions he would visit during my studies and I’m very glad he is being honoured in this way.

Dr Robin Landells

Professor Knox (or Dr Knox as he was then) was one of my first lecturers during my first year of a BSc degree in Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh.

I still have my lecture notes from his 12 lectures (6th October to 19th November 1969) and will bring them up to Edinburgh for the  9th November Symposium.

John gave his new 'fresher' students the following two sound pieces of advice at the start of his first lecture.

  • 1 hours work to digest and write up a 1 hour lecture.
  • Minimum time required before an exam - 2 weeks hard work.

I spent many a happy hour in the George Square University Library writing up my lecture notes from the day and reading the relevant text books. 

He recommended University Chemistry by B Mahan as the book for Physical and Inorganic Chemistry. Published in 1965 by Addison-Wesley. It cost 60/- and I still have my copy in the attic.

Professor Knox laid an excellent foundation for my life long work in Chemistry. His notes were extremely thorough. 

I went onto do a PhD in Organic Chemistry under Professor Cadogan at Edinburgh/ETH Zurich, then joined the Oil Industry and finally ended up as a Secondary school Chemistry teacher.

I still teach Chromatography to my year 10's and 11's and give the same advice John gave me all those years ago.

Prof Adam Cumming

While an undergraduate from 1968-72, John Knox lectured to us on Statistical Thermodynamics, which for me was not the most stimulating subject, but his lecturing was made memorable by on one occasion attempting to illustrate a point by a practical demonstration which involved climbing on to the bench to attempt to use the space for that demonstration – I remember the demonstration but not the subject that inspired it!  Later while working on research to analyse trace levels of explosives I took part in an early course of his on High Pressure Liquid Chromatography of which he was a pioneer.  The course was stimulating and triggered a new direction in that analysis field. 

Harry H Adam

I remember him fondly from my time in the Chemistry department, many moons ago.

 

It would have been great to join the symposium and revisit the department (no doubt much changed since the 60’s/early 70’s) – a source of many great memories. Unfortunately, a visit not possible on this occasion.

 

Andrew Thompson

I first met Prof Knox when I was a schoolboy and good friends with his son, Jonny.  Prof Knox was always most welcoming and before long I was press ganged on to his boat Myfanwy as crew.  It was through Professor Knox that I learned to share his love of sailing the western isles of Scotland.  In later years my wife and I bought the boat Myfanwy (he had up-scaled to a slightly larger yacht) but I could not help but feel he always had a stronger sentimental attachment to his old boat.  Every year we would let him know our latest adventures on Myfanwy and we all had a memorable joint trip to St Kilda together (with Andy and Jonny and a bunch of friends).  Sailing among the sea stacks of this fascinating archipelago is something we'll never forget.  And it's nice to know that having a Knox anchor on board, we will always have a little piece of the professor with us wherever we sail.  God bless him.