World authority in the field of separation science

Born: October 21, 1927

Died: October 15, 2018

JOHN Knox, who has died aged 90, was a world authority in the field of separation science and a pioneer in the development of modern high performance chromatography, the process by which a chemical mixture carried by liquid or gas is separated into components. Professor Emeritus at Edinburgh University with his personal chair in physical chemistry, he was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society (Edinburgh) in 1971 and the Royal Society (London) in 1984. He played a leading role in the development of gas, liquid and capillary electrochromatography and elaborated what became known as the Knox Equation, important in the theory of high performance aspects of the science.

In 1972 a Wolfson Foundation grant supported the establishment of a liquid chromatography unit at Edinburgh University where Knox and his team carried out much valuable research. He wrote extensively on his expertise and travelled the world lecturing at conferences, earning various international awards, including the Dal Nogare prize and the Galay Medal. In 2009 the Knox Medal was endowed in his honour by the Royal Society of Chemistry to recognise those making notable contributions to separation science.

John Henderson Knox was born in Edinburgh to John and Elizabeth, nee Henderson, and brought up in the city with his late sister Helen. His father was a geologist and mother a palynologist, both Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. After attending Allermuir primary school, Knox went to George Watson’s College and thereafter completed a B.Sc. degree at Edinburgh University before undertaking a Ph.D. at Pembroke College, Cambridge.

In 1957 he married Josephine Wissler in Scarborough, having met while skiing in the Pentland Hills with the University Mountaineering Club. They set up home in Morningside and had four sons, David, Andrew, Malcolm and Jonathan.

The couple would go skiing in the Cairngorms which then entailed walking up to the top of the hills carrying heavy home made wooden skis. Later they skied in Europe and he remained enthusiastic until reluctantly having to stop in his mid 70s.

Watersports were another major passion. A member of the Forth Canoe Club, he made his own entire kit from canoes to wetsuits and covered most of the challenging waterways in Scotland. He was one of the first Scots to negotiate the rapids of the Grand Canyon and the Green River in Colorado.

Wednesday afternoon runs with his students from King’s Buildings to the Pentlands was another regular activity but sailing became his major interest, initially in dinghies. He won many prizes racing and successfully crossed the dangerous Corryvreckan whirlpool. Later he enjoyed yachting round the west coast islands, going as far as St Kilda.

After one stormy night in 1988 anchored near Mull, fearing his anchor would drag, he developed the AnchorWatch device to alert crew to that risk and after comprehensive tests designed the Knox Anchor, now commercially manufactured. From an early age he encouraged his sons to participate in these activities and engendered lifelong interest. Although highly accomplished in outdoor pursuits, he was not immune to occasional mishaps, much to the amusement of himself and others.

Latterly due to his wife’s health issues, his lifestyle changed as he dedicated himself to her continuing care and learned new skills to enable him do so. He was a much-loved father whose gregarious, unassuming and empathetic nature endeared him to all.

He is survived by his wife, children, 12 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.