Physicists gather to celebrate the life of Sir John Enderby

Happy memories: delegates at a workshop at the University of Bristol from 5-6 September 2022 held in honour of Sir John Enderby (Courtesy: Adrian Barnes)

Members of the physics community gathered at the University of Bristol earlier this week to pay tribute to Sir John Enderby, who died in August last year at the age of 90.

Enderby was best known scientifically for his development of new techniques using neutrons to study the structure of liquids.

Having worked at the universities of Sheffield, Leicester and Bristol, Enderby also held several senior positions in science, including a three-year spell as British directeur adjoint of the Institut Laue-Langevin neutron lab in Grenoble, France.

He served as vice-president and physical secretary of the Royal Society from 1999 to 2004 and was president of the Institute of Physics from 2004 to 2006. Enderby was knighted for his services to science and technology in 2004.

The event – Understanding the structure of liquids: celebrating John Enderby’s scientific legacy – was attended by family members and colleagues, including former PhD students Philip Salmon (now at the Univeristy of Bath) and Alan Soper from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

John Enderby

Delegates paid tribute to Enderby’s ability as a physicist to see through to the root of a problem, his skill at making the most of difficult situations, and his knack of making colleagues passionate about their work and being excited about its broader possibilities

Antonia Seymour, chief executive of IOP Publishing, outlined Enderby’s keen interest in scholarly publishing and paid tribute to his time as a scientific adviser for IOP Publishing, a position he held until 2011.

Dawood Parker from the hi-tech firm Melys Diagnostics talked about Enderby’s enthusiasm for finding solutions to industrial problems.

Others recalled his ability as an administrator – he was head of physics at Bristol for many years – who could cut through to the nub of an issue, identify ways forward, and say clearly what needed to be done.

There were also lighter moments as Enderby’s colleagues recalled his enjoyment of good food, football (he was a referee and supporter of Leicester City) and family life.

It was obvious to all who attended that Enderby not only contributed greatly to physics – in particular developing methods to analyze the structure of liquids – but also had a simple and straightforward desire to help others.

As the mathematician Sir John Kingman – and former vice-chancelleor of Bristol University – noted at the end of his address: “He was a great man.”