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Iain Campbell

Scientist.

Born: April 24, 1941; Died: March 5, 2014.

PROFESSOR Iain Campbell, who has died aged 72, was an inspirational scientist and teacher who revolutionised the study of proteins. He pioneered the use of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), a new technique to study the structure of proteins which is now a vital element of the technology of MRI scanners.

He was also a determined campaigner for government funding for science and, with Professor Stephen Hawking, called on the government to spend more on research and development to enable the UK to compete more effectively with the other leading economies of the world.

He was born in Blackford, near Perth, and attended Perth Academy. He then studied physics at St Andrews University graduating in 1963. He stayed in Fife to write his PhD and joined the research team of Jack Allen, Head of Physics at St Andrews. He is fondly remembered at the university for his thirst for knowledge, keen enquiring mind and his life-long love of golf.

After a year in Bradford in 1966, Professor Campbell was appointed a lecturer in the department of biochemistry at Oxford where he remained until 1992 as a Fellow of St John's College.

That year, he was made professor of biochemistry at Oxford University and throughout those years Professor Campbell gradually built up the reputation of the department until it was recognised as a major scientific force in scientific research. He initially worked with Sir Rex Richards which gave him the opportunity to advance the research of NMR and to look at atoms in chemicals.

Today NMR is widely established as a vital ingredient of the technology of MRI scanners. Professor Campbell's work made huge advances in the machines' adaptation which he described, in a typically modest phrase, as 'limited'.

His acute mind and diligent research was acknowledged by many senior colleagues in the profession. As Professor James Naismith said in the Laureaton address when Professor Campbell was awarded an honorary degree at St Andrews in 2012: "Scientists such as Raymond Dwek, who also worked at Oxford, spotted that this quiet Scottish physicist was revolutionising the study of proteins. His clarity of thought, rigorous analysis and deep intellect made him a sought-after collaborator."

By 1987 Professor Campbell determined the structure of epidermal growth factor (a cell division protein). It was the first NMR protein structure in the UK, one of the first in the world and was immediately see as a landmark in life science. The papers he subsequently wrote on this research confirmed his international reputation.

But in the late 1980s, Professor Campbell decided to concentrate his research on biology and became an authority on cell migration and cell adhesion. The technology which he perfected is used in every significant biomedical research programme across the world. Many leading scientists who are now in senior posts throughout the pharmaceutical industry were taught and encouraged in their studies by Professor Campbell.

This was typified in 1997 when Glenn King, a senior lecturer in biochemistry at the University of Sydney, was given a major medical award. The citation referred to Mr King's scholarship to work in Oxford in 1986 to "undertake postdoctoral studies in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Oxford under the supervision of the renowned Professor Iain Campbell, one of the pioneers of NMR studies of proteins".

In addition to his research, Professor Campbell continued to lecture and mentor students. His quiet, invariably courteous and modest manner encouraged and stimulated students into new avenues of thought and reasoning. He was an excellent listener and enjoyed scientific discussions on a variety of scientific and social subjects.

One student commented: "Iain's enthusiasm and insights were a true inspiration. The time spent working in his group as a D.Phil student and later as a post doc was simply the best of times. His vision gave us direction and his light touch supervision gave us the space to be creative."

Last March, Professor Campbell along with many of the leading scientists in the UK (including Professor Hawking) wrote on behalf of the Science is Vital campaign a letter to The Daily Telegraph saying: "We urge the Government to demonstrate its long-term commitment to funding science and engineering." The letter ended with a resounding plea: "We call on the Government to increase research and development spending to at least 0.8 per cent of GDP - the G8 average - to enable us to compete more effectively with the leading economies of the world."

The subject reflected Professor Campbell's passion for the UK's continued commitment to scientific research and his concern for its future.

He published many papers in academic and medical journals and sat on numerous educational and scientific boards. He was a member of the Wellcome Molecular Cell Board from 1997 and of the European Molecular Biology Organisation. His distinguished career was recognised by many prestigious awards including the BDH Medal of the Biochem Society and election as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1995. He delivered the prominent Croonian Lecture at the Royal Society in 2006 on the subject of Structure and the Living Cell.

But his contribution to biology comprises so much more than solving the solution structures of proteins. He brought to science an enquiring and incisive mind.

He had the capacity to remain independent and quietly reasoned his research through in a practical and diligent manner. For those who were his students he remained a charismatic and engaging tutor. Many considered Professor Campbell an inspirational teacher who taught students the importance and the joy of experimental science.

Professor Campbell married Karin Wehle in 1967. She and their son and daughter survive him.

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