Physicist and academic;
Born: January 4, 1934; Died September 30, 2012.
Professor Robert Patton Ferrier, who has died aged 78, was an experimental physicist and electron microscopist of distinction. He held the chair of natural philosophy, the senior chair in physics at Glasgow University from 1973 to 2002 and at the time of his death was emeritus professor of natural philosophy and an honorary senior research fellow in the university's department of physics and astronomy.
Known as Bob, he was educated at Glebelands School and Morgan Academy in Dundee. He graduated BSc and was then awarded a PhD from the University of St Andrews. He held research posts at various institutions including the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, Harwell and the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge. He became a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge in 1964. As such he was one of their first fellows, something of which he was extremely proud throughout his life. He was a lecturer in physics at the University of Cambridge from 1971 until 1973.
In his early years as a researcher his primary interest lay in the structure of materials. For his PhD he actually worked with biological structures, but this soon gave way to an interest in complex inorganic materials that stayed with him for most of his working life. While he was at Harwell he made extensive use of diffraction techniques and played a role in their development.
This set him up in good stead, when his interest changed from the comparatively well-established work being carried out using x-rays to the younger emerging field of electron microscopy. It was an exciting time. What could be achieved with early instruments was changing rapidly as innovative developments were introduced. This in turn meant that more complicated problems in solid state physics could be tackled.
At the Cavendish Laboratory he was keen to lead activity in both the use and application of microscopy. A number of themes emerged there. On the application front, he showed how electron techniques could be used to probe magnetic materials. In terms of technique development he rapidly picked up on electron energy loss spectroscopy, a technique that was born in the late 1960s, and the kind of local chemical information that it could yield.
Most of the materials he studied were crystalline, a continuation of his work from his early thesis days. But in the early 1970s, a key scientific question was the degree of disorder in so-called "amorphous" or glassy materials. Thus in Cambridge he played a pivotal role in no less than three research areas and built small teams to work on each of them.
The breadth of his interests led to his appointment to the chair of natural philosophy at Glasgow in 1973 with the remit of founding a widely-based research group to work on the materials in the solid state. That the group he established is still going strong today is testament to his vision and dedication throughout the latter decades of the 20th century. His award of a fellowship from of the Royal Society of Edinburgh shows the high level of regard he enjoyed from peers throughout Scotland.
Whilst most of his scientific achievements were in the field of physics and materials science, he was always keen to collaborate with colleagues in other disciplines. He established strong multi-disciplinary work with University colleagues in Electrical Engineering, Physiology and Chemistry at a time when this was less fashionable.
His eminence in his research areas attracted attention from many parts of the world and he became a regular summer visitor to the world-leading IBM laboratories in San Jose, California. He also took his responsibilities within the university seriously. He played a major role on many university committees and took over the headship of the Department of Physics & Astronomy for a period in the 1990s.
Bob Ferrier and his late wife Valerie had a wide circle of friends. Generations of friends, colleagues and students recall with pleasure the hospitality they enjoyed at his beautiful home. His search for excellence was not confined to the academic sphere. He was a sportsman of considerable renown, using his excellent eye for a ball to good advantage. In his early days he was an accomplished cricketer, and on his return to Scotland took up tennis, which he played with vigour and competitiveness for many years.
Her will be sorely missed by his colleagues and his friends. Valerie, his wife of 47 years pre-deceased him in 2008, but he is survived by his children, Hamish, Elizabeth and Alan, together with his seven grandchildren.
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