Sir Harry Work Melville, chemist and administrator; born April 27, 1908, died June 14, 2000

Harry Melville, who has died in Buckinghamshire at the age of 92, scaled the heights of his chosen career in chemistry at an unusually early age.

Appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society when he was just 33, one of the youngest ever, he held the chair of chemistry at both Aberdeen and Birmingham universities, was principal of Queen Mary's College, Cambridge, and went on to become chairman of the Science Research Council.

Born and raised in Edinburgh, he was educated at George Heriot's School, Edinburgh University (where he was a Carnegie Scholar), and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was an Exhibitioner. At the age of 22 he was appointed a Fellow. His particular interest lay in polymer research and he became assistant director of the Colloid Science Laboratory.

In his twenties Harry Melville won the Institute of Chemistry's Meldola Medal and later gained the Royal Society's Davy Medal and the Colwyn Medal from the institution of the rubber industry. The son of a brewer, his unusual middle name coming from his father's Orcadian forebears, Harry Work Melville gave no early indication of what he was later to achieve, the record at George Heriot's School crediting him with only ''average intelligence'' but remarking that he was: ''A fairly good worker, of quiet, unassuming manner, and always courteous.''

His civilian scientific career was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War and although only recently appointed Professor of Chemistry at Aberdeen University, he became scientific adviser to the chief superintendent of the government chemical warfare establishment at Porton Down.

It was in these laboratories that experiments were made with the deadly anthrax infection which was tested on the west Highland island of Gruinard. The soil there remained contaminated for over half a century and access to the island was, until recently, forbidden.

There followed, in 1943, the post of superintendent at the radar research station at Malvern. By this time at Aberdeen University Harry Melville was burdened with a travelling schedule that was, in itself, potentially exhausting, given the tribulations of rail travel in wartime: disrupted schedules, packed trains, and the black-out.

He referred to his weekly Monday morning departure south as the milk train, and such was the arduous nature of this wartime travel schedule that Aberdeen University's archive contains a report that he coped with it thanks to his ''tremendous energy and uncomplicated personality''.

Following three peacetime years at Aberdeen University, Professor Melville and his wife, Janet, whom he had married in 1942, travelled to Birmingham, where he had been appointed Mason Professor of Chemistry at the university. He remained there for eight years.

Service on many scientific and research bodies, including membership of the Nuclear Safety Advisory Committee, kept him at the forefront of his field and he travelled widely as a lecturer, visiting, among other places, Russia, Korea, Iraq, Japan, India, and Australia. He was knighted in 1958.

His travels, although on scientific business, allowed him to indulge his hobby of photography. He was also an occasional golfer.

President of the Plastics Institute during the 1970s, Sir Harry had honorary degrees showered upon him - an LLD at Aberdeen, a DCL at Kent, DSc at Exeter, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Heriot-Watt, and Essex, and a BTech from Bradford.

Sir Harry, who made his home in Buckinghamshire, leaves a widow, two daughters, and five grandchildren. A great-granddaughter was born the day after his death.