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Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology

John Davidson

Our beloved Emeritus Professor John Davidson sadly died early on Christmas day, aged 93, following a short illness.

John Davidson joined the Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Cambridge, in 1952 as a University Demonstrator. He became Professor of Chemical Engineering (Shell Professor from 1978) and Head of Department from 1975 through to his retirement in 1993. He was also a much- loved Senior Fellow of Trinity College, which he joined in 1949 and was elected a Fellow in 1957.

There are many notable achievements to his name leaving behind an incredible legacy:  

In 1999 he was awarded a Royal Medal in recognition of his distinguished work over many years in Chemical Engineering, including fluid flow, process dynamics, gas absorption and fluidisation technology. He has been a Fellow of the Royal Society since 1974. He was President of the Institution of Chemical Engineers 1970-1971 and Vice-President of the Royal Society from 1988-1989

The IChemE also launched the "Davidson Medal" in his honour in 2016 describing him ‘not only as a Founding Father of Fluidisation in chemical engineering, but also as a mentor who has supported and influenced the careers of several generations of chemical engineers’. 

Back in 7 February 2016 Professor Davidson celebrated his 90th birthday with colleagues and friends at CEB who gathered to mark the occasion and celebrate a career of remarkable achievements in Chemical Engineering.  The occasion was officially marked with the John Davidson Symposium on 10 March 2016 at CEB with several international speakers present to share reminiscences on his career. There was also a tribute dinner hosted in his honour attended by many international senior academics, alumni and friends.  The event was also a gesture of thanks for his immense contribution of over  64 years in the Department - not only to the history of the Department and its continuing development, but also to the discipline itself.

Professor Davidson, though retired many years ago, remained a very active member of the department and continued supervising research students for a while. He was extremely fond of the department and its people, often seen engaging in intellectual discussions with colleagues and students in the Tearoom.

Former Head of Department and Executive Chair of EPSRC Professor Lynn  Gladden, just named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s New Year Honours List, paid particular tribute to her first ‘ boss’ John Davidson, her predecessor as Shell Professor of Chemical Engineering. Another former HoD, Professor John Dennis, previously commented on Professor Davidson's long career in Chemical Engineering and his equally long association with this department, praised his ability to reduce any problem to four handwritten sides of A4, and cited an example where his clarity of thought beat a computer program that took three days to write.

 “John was a much loved, much respected and very current member of the department.  We will greatly miss seeing him and his always vibrant and insightful contribution to any scientific discussion,” commented current HoD Professor Lisa Hall.

On behalf of the whole department, we would like to convey our deepest condolences to his son and CEB alumnus Peter Davidson and the rest of the family on the passing of "a true and inspirational Scientist and Gentleman".

There are plans for a memorial service to take place later on in the year, which the department is hoping to participate in and contribute to.

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