Robert Williams (English chemist)

Robert Joseph Paton Williams MBE FRS[4] (25 February 1926 – 21 March 2015) was an English chemist, an Emeritus Fellow at Wadham College, Oxford[5] and an Emeritus Professor at the University of Oxford.[6][7][8]

Bob Williams

Born(1926-02-25)25 February 1926
Died21 March 2015(2015-03-21) (aged 89)
Alma materMerton College, Oxford
Known forIrving–Williams series
Jelly Büchli
(m. 1952)
AwardsRoyal Medal
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Oxford
ThesisAn investigation of the complex compounds of some metals (1950)
Doctoral advisorHarry Irving[2]
Doctoral studentsPeter Day[3]


Robert Joseph Paton Williams was born on 25 February 1926 in Wallasey to Ernest Ivor Williams, a customs and excise officer at Liverpool, and Alice Williams (née Roberts), a milliner; he was the second of four children.

Williams failed to gain a scholarship to Wallasey Grammar School, having missed six months’ schooling with diphtheria, but his parents paid for him to attend. He went on to gain a place and be awarded a Postmastership to read chemistry at Merton College, Oxford in 1944. For his final undergraduate research year he worked with analytical chemist Dr Harry M N H Irving. This enabled him to establish an order of the relative stabilities of metal–organic complexes along the latter half of the transition series manganese through zinc.[9] From these findings he saw a parallel with the selective uptake of metal ions by organisms.[10]

Williams’s plan was to continue working with Irving for his DPhil, but he first visited the lab of Arne Tiselius at Uppsala University. He was impressed by what he saw there, and returned to Sweden after he gained his DPhil in 1950. During the longer stay he worked on protein purification and devised a method called gradient elution analysis.[4]

Williams then spent another period back at Merton, having won a Junior Research Fellowship, Then, “out of the blue, in 1954, Sir Cyril Hinshelwood FRS, then Oxford Professor of Chemistry, asked to see Bob.” He was told that three colleges—Christ Church, Pembroke and Wadham—needed a tutor in chemistry. “Each one will invite you to dine. Come back again in two weeks to give me your decision.”[4] Williams joined Wadham College in 1955 and remained there for the rest of his life. He retired in 1991 and set about writing several important books:


  • Fraústo da Silva, J J R; Williams, R J P (1991). The Biological Chemistry of the Elements: the Inorganic Chemistry of Life. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-850848-4.
  • Williams, R J P; Fraústo da Silva, J J R (1996). The Natural Selection of the Chemical Elements. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 9780198558422.
  • Williams, R J P; Fraústo da Silva, J J R (2005). The Chemistry of Evolution: The Development of our Ecosystem. Elsevier Science. ISBN 9780444521552.
  • Williams, R J P; Rickaby, R E M (2012). Evolution’s Destiny: Co-evolving Chemistry of the Environment and Life. Cambridge: RSC Publishing.


While he was in Uppsala Williams met Jelly Klara Büchli, a Dutch student from Groningen. They married in 1952 and then lived in Oxford. Jelly read English language and literature at St Hilda’s College between 1952 and 1955, but the birth of their first son, Timothy Ivor, interrupted her final exams. A second son, John M, was born in 1957. In 1981 Jelly published A Dutch Reader.[11]

Bob Williams died in the John Radcliffe hospital on 21 March 2015.

Awards and honoursEdit

Williams was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2010 New Year Honours for services to the community in North Oxford.[12]

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1972[4] and was a Foreign Member of the Swedish, Portuguese, Czechoslovakian and Belgian science academies. He was a medallist of the Biochemical Society (twice), the Royal Society (twice), the Royal Society of Chemistry (three times), the European Biochemical Societies (twice) and the International Union of Biochemistry. He won the Royal Medal in 1995.[13]


  1. ^ B. L. Vallee & R. J. P. Williams (1968). "Metalloenzymes: the entatic nature of their active sites". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 59 (2): 498–505. doi:10.1073/pnas.59.2.498. PMC 224700. PMID 5238980.
  2. ^ Irving, H. M. N. H.; Williams, R. J. P. (1953). "The stability of transition-metal complexes". J. Chem. Soc.: 3192–3210. doi:10.1039/JR9530003192.
  3. ^ Day, Peter (1965). Light induced charge transfer in solids (DPhil thesis). University of Oxford. OCLC 944386301.
  4. ^ a b c d Hill, H. A. O.; Thomson, A. J. (2016). "Robert Joseph Paton Williams MBE. 25 February 1926 – 21 March 2015". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. London: Royal Society. 62: 541–570. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2016.0020.
  5. ^ "Bob Williams". Wadham College, University of Oxford. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  6. ^ Thomson, Andrew J (2015). "Professor Robert JP Williams FRS (25/2/1926–21/3/2015)". JBIC Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry. 20 (4): 617–618. doi:10.1007/s00775-015-1262-6. ISSN 0949-8257.
  7. ^ Mann, Stephen; Thomson, Andrew J. (2015). "Robert J. P. Williams (1926–2015)". Angewandte Chemie. 127 (27): 7856–7856. doi:10.1002/ange.201504131. ISSN 0044-8249.
  8. ^ Anon (2015). "R J P Williams (1926–2015)". University of Oxford. Archived from the original on 9 February 2016.
  9. ^ Irving, H; Williams, R J P (6 November 1948). "Order of Stability of Metal Complexes". Nature. 162 (4123): 746–747.
  10. ^ Thomson, Andrew J (2016). "The science of RJP Williams". Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry. 21: 1–3.
  11. ^ Williams, Jelly K (1981). A Dutch Reader. Nelson Thornes. ISBN 9780859503495.
  12. ^ "No. 59282". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2009. p. 23.
  13. ^ "Royal Medal". Retrieved 6 December 2008.

External linksEdit