Michael Page obituary

Other lives: Physical-organic chemist who made a formidable impact at the University of Huddersfield

My educator, mentor and friend, Michael Page, who has died aged 76, was a physical-organic chemist who made pioneering contributions to his profession over a career spanning five decades.

After studying chemistry at Brighton, then a PhD in Leicester and Glasgow, Mike moved to Brandeis University, Massachusetts, in 1970 to do postdoctoral research with one of the world’s most eminent physical-organic chemists, William Jencks. Together, using classical concepts, they reinterpreted the features that can account for rate acceleration in enzymes, showing there was no need to invoke any of the previously postulated special effects. Their research article Entropic Contributions to Rate Accelerations in Enzymic and Intramolecular Reactions and the Chelate Effect, published in 1971 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, has been cited more than 1,300 times.

On returning to the UK, Mike spent a year with the distinguished physical chemist Ronnie Bell at Stirling, before moving in 1972 to a lectureship at Huddersfield Polytechnic (now the University of Huddersfield). There he explored topics as diverse as antibiotics, organometallics, reactions in liquid ammonia and the chemical origins of life. By 1985 Mike had been promoted to professor and become head of chemistry. I started my undergraduate degree that year, and was taught organic chemistry by Mike. He was truly inspiring, from day one. Students were guided, with humour and the occasional quote from Shakespeare, towards a rigorous appreciation of organic reactivity.

Mike’s impact at Huddersfield was formidable, and he soon became dean for research, then deputy vice-chancellor. Nonetheless, he continued to supervise PhD students and to publish. He was the founding director of Innovative Physical Organic Solutions, a commercial facility that provides analytical services to companies, and won numerous awards, including the Society of Chemical Industry’s Research and Development for Society award, and an honorary doctorate. After retiring in 2018, Mike become a visiting academic in chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, remaining highly active, lecturing at conferences and publishing.

Born in Lewes, Sussex, to Lesley Page, a postman and gardener, and Gertrude (nee Allen), Mike went to Lewes grammar school. In 1967 he met Caroline Stott at the University of Leicester, where she was studying English and history and he was doing a PhD. They married in 1968.

Anyone who encountered Mike will remember a man of great creativity, modesty and humour, who had as much interest in the work of others as in his own. At lectures he had the ability to ask simple yet highly penetrating questions, gently guiding the speaker to realise a flaw or to see an important new direction.

Mike is survived by Caroline, their daughter, Emma, and their granddaughters, Alice, Jessica, Katie and Claire. Their son, Tim, died in 2012.

Guy Lloyd-Jones

The GuardianTramp

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