Remembering Professor Alan Williams, 1935-2023

Emeritus Professor Alan Williams, a world-leading researcher and Commander of the British Empire (CBE) who spent his long and celebrated career at the University of Leeds, has died aged 88.

Alan came to Leeds in 1955 to study chemistry and remained to pursue PhD research (1957-1959) under the supervision of the eminent Professor Peter Gray FRS. He worked as a Research Fellow, funded by the British Gas Fellowship Scheme, between 1959 and 1964. This research with Professor Graham Dixon-Lewis FRS led to seminal work concerning hydrogen flame kinetics and the development of the first computer models of flame structure.

He was appointed to the academic staff as a Lecturer in 1964, Senior Lecturer in 1972 and his talents for strategic vision in research and teaching were recognised through his rapid promotion to the position of Livesey Professor of Fuel and Combustion Science, and Head of the Department of Fuel and Combustion Science in 1973. He was then, at age 38, the youngest Professor in the University.

Alan drove the expansion of the Department of Fuel and Energy in the mid-1990s from its routes in fundamental combustion science towards environmental and societal impacts. This included the development of Undergraduate and Masters courses in Energy and Environment, and Fire Science and Safety Engineering.

He held influential roles at the University throughout his career and was Head of the Houldsworth School of Applied Sciences for many years, Director of Centre for Combustion and Energy Studies (1988-1992, 1998-2000), and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering (1991-1993).

In 1995, he was made a CBE for services to the Scientific Development of Fuel Chemistry, and he became a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1999 for his work in Combustion, Energy Conservation, Environment, and Biofuels. 

Alan retired in 2000, at which time the title and status of Emeritus Professor was conferred upon him. He was involved in active research until he passed on 6 September, while attending the 2nd FERIA Conference in Sheffield, which he contributed to. He leaves several started works that will be published posthumously.

Alan touched many lives and leaves a rich legacy, not least through the innumerable PhD students he has supervised from all over the world, but also in the collegiate atmosphere he has imbued in the research community. He will be remembered for his exceptional intellect, his wicked sense of humour, his calm energy and enthusiasm and as someone who energised those around him: a thoroughly inspiring character who crossed the generations.

Alan’s private funeral service will be held on 2 October, on which day the flag on the Parkinson Building will be flown at half-mast in his memory.

An academic memorial event is planned for later in the year, where colleagues and family can celebrate Alan’s life and achievements. Donations are requested to The British Heart Foundation in place of flowers.

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