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175th Anniversary Lecture – Good Chemistry

Professor Rob Brown and Dr Martyn Walker

Speaker Professor Rob Brown (left) and Dr Martyn Walker

Fri, 27 May 2016 10:14:00 BST

Professor Rob Brown and Dr Martyn Walker explored the roots of chemistry in the early Huddersfield Mechanics’ Institution

Chemistry lab HUDDERSFIELD became a UK centre for chemical manufacture and research, especially in the field of dyes for colouring textiles.  The reasons for this included exploitation of the “black gunk” that remained after coal had been used to provide gas – plus the vision and calibre of teachers at the educational institute that would evolve into the present-day University of Huddersfield.

At the final public lecture in a series commemorating the 175th anniversary of the foundation of the University’s predecessor institution, Professor Rob Brown told the story of chemistry teaching and research in the town and how it was closely linked with the fortunes of local industry.

It was in 1841 that a Young Men’s Mental Improvement Society – soon to be renamed the Mechanics’ Institution – was established in the town.  The modern University of Huddersfield is a direct descendent of this and chemistry has been on the curriculum since 1843, said Rob Brown, who is recently retired as Professor of Chemistry at the University where he taught and researched since 1997.

William Perkin Until the mid-19th century, chemistry was regarded as an esoteric subject, little more than a hobby.  But the development of industry and the need for Britain to keep up with its European competitors, especially in textiles manufacture, resulted in a new attitude to chemistry, and the Huddersfield Mechanics’ Institution would play an important role.

There was a milestone in 1856, when the youthful William Perkin (pictured left), attending London’s Royal College of Chemistry, discovered that it was possible to synthesise a mauveine dye from components of coal tar.

It was “a horrible material, what’s left when you gasify coal – a black gunk that would come running out when you made town gas,” said Professor Brown.  But Perkin’s work, showing the potential uses of coal tar chemicals, opened up the field of organic chemistry, including the production of dyestuffs, and Huddersfield was perfectly placed to take advantage.

This was because it already had an important textile industry; there were coalfields in the district – meaning coal tar was plentiful; and there were very high calibre chemistry teachers at the Mechanics’ Institution.

George Jarmain In his lecture, Professor Brown outlined the careers of some of the key figures in chemistry teaching and research at Huddersfield Mechanics’ Institute and its successors, culminating in the University of Huddersfield.

The towering figure in the early part of the story was George Jarmain (pictured right) – founder of a long-lived wool textile firm that bore his name.

He joined the Mechanics’ Institution part-time in 1855 and later became an inspirational full-time teacher until his retirement in 1895 and was the author of many textbooks.

Jarmain expanded the chemistry department at the Institution and presided over a “boom time” for the subject from the 1860s onwards.  There were rising numbers of students, who sat national examinations, and they had improved facilities, especially when the Ramsden Building – still at the heart of the University of Huddersfield – was opened in 1884.

Professor Brown described the personalities and achievements of several other figures in the saga of chemistry teaching in Huddersfield and he outlined important developments such as the Government’s decision in 1916 to form British Dyes Ltd, based around the Huddersfield firm Read Holliday.

This meant that the town became the UK centre for dyestuffs and for research and teaching in colour chemistry at the Technical College, as the Institution was now known.

Dr Merrick Burrow The lecture brought the story of chemistry at Huddersfield up to the present day, with the achievements of recent and contemporary researchers and professors. 

During the 1990s, there was a crisis in chemistry teaching throughout the UK university sector, with many departments closing down, said Professor Brown.  But the University of Huddersfield kept faith with a subject that had been taught since 1843.

‌“It is to the eternal credit of people running this university that they stuck with the study of chemistry as a core subject.  Now, there are large numbers of students, provided with excellent facilities.  The future of Huddersfield as a chemistry town looks good.”

Setting the scene

Professor Brown’s lecture was preceded by a talk from Dr Martyn Walker, who is a historian of the Mechanics’ Institute movement as a whole and Huddersfield Mechanics’ Institution in particular.

Dr Walker began the 175th Anniversary series with a talk entitled The Class of 1841, and in the concluding session he reprised some of his themes and also set the scene for Professor Brown’s lecture by emphasising the importance of chemistry as a subject in the early years of the institution.  It was of great relevance to the local textile industry and classes for chemistry and for loom weaving at the Mechanics’ Institution were always full.

Chemistry was also taught at many of the smaller mechanics’ institutes in the Huddersfield district and they had laboratory facilities.  But those at the Huddersfield Mechanics’ Institution were of a higher standard than at most universities during the period, said Dr Walker.

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The forgotten man and his work… remembered


Tutor Sara Nesteruk (far right) is pictured with motion graphic students (left to right) Merry Eady, Nicole H.D.W. Sinclair, Emma Perrett, Beth Minshall, Johnathan Clementson

Thu, 26 May 2016 10:37:00 BST

Few have heard of Huddersfield statistician George H. Wood, whose work is archived in Heritage Quay, but now his work has been brought to life by the University’s motion graphics students

Portrait image of George H. Wood drawn by student Rustis BalciunasGeorge H Wood

GEORGE Henry Wood was an avid statistician whose facts and figures about the working poor in early 20th century Britain are of special interest to historians, who are able to examine them in a special archive collection at the University of Huddersfield.  Now, G.H. Wood has proved to be an inspiration to another group – students who are developing skills that will equip them for careers that include designing title sequences for TV programmes.


They have produced a series of short films that explore Wood’s legacy and draw on his statistical findings.  These have already had a public exhibition and can be seen online at a special website

The University offers a variety of courses in graphic design and animation, with motion graphics – used in mainly commercial contexts such as television – being one of the disciplines, tutored by lecturer Sara Nesteruk, an experienced professional in the field.

In conversation with Lindsey Ince, an archivist at the University award-winning Heritage Quay archives centre, Sara learned about the George Henry Wood Collection, which consists of a large number of pamphlets, books and manuscripts packed with sociological statistics.

“The collection is so intriguing and the material seemed to offer a good opportunity for a creative response,” said Sara, who has formed a motion graphics club for students on graphic design and animation courses.  It is named Motion-go and samples of the work of club members have been posted on a vimeo site.

Six members of the club took up Sara’s idea and paid visits to Heritage Quay, delving into the G.H. Wood Collection. 

Statistical information on topics such as death rates, health issues, wage levels and pay differentials between men and women in the early 1900s were highlighted in the short sequences created by the students.  They also developed their own varied interpretations of a portrait of Wood, who was born in 1874 and died in 1945. 

“The students went back to Heritage Quay a few times and responded very well to the material,” said Sara.  “They wanted to take the statistics and do creative things with them.  They also found out about George Henry Wood and responded to that.”

The sequence of motion graphic films had been exhibited publicly at Huddersfield’s Piazza Centre, and details of the project will be kept at Heritage Quay – meaning it will be stored in the same archives that inspired it.

The six Motion-go members – all second-year undergraduates – who took part are…

-        Rustis Balciunas

-        Jonathan Clementson

-        Merry Eady

-        Beth Minshall

-        Emma Perrett

-        Nicole Sinclair

Lecturer Sara Nesteruk is a motion graphics and animation specialist who has produced work, including title sequences, for employers and clients that include BBC Sport, the National Theatre, Channel 4 and TV production company Endemol. 

She is currently engaged in a doctoral project titled Recipes for Baking Bread, which will be a series of short films exploring the famine induced in Ukraine by Stalin in the 1930s.  The title stems from the appropriation of grain when farms were collectivised.  Sara’s grandparents were Ukrainian.

  • George Henry Wood was born in 1874.  During his lifetime, he was an active member of a number of groups and societies and involved with the collation of statistics relating to the working poor.  By 1910, he was employed as a lecturer in statistics at Huddersfield Technical College.  By 1926, Wood had been elected as a member of the Council of the Royal Statistical Society.  Wood became Secretary of the Huddersfield and District Woollen Manufacturers and Spinners Association and was heavily involved in the reduction of working hours and rises in wages.  The Heritage Quay collection comprises most of Wood’s reference library, deposited with Huddersfield Technical College as a long-term loan in 1926 and subsequently given to the institution in 1948, after Wood’s death in 1945.
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20 years of study culminates in PhD for Qatari engineer

Dr Abdulrahman Al-Braik

Wed, 25 May 2016 13:55:00 BST

Now, Dr Abdulrahman Al-Braik actively encourages other Qatari students to study at the University of Huddersfield

Abdulrahman with his son, Mohamed Abdulrahman Abdulrahman is pictured (right) with his son, Mohamed Abdulrahman, who is currently studying at Huddersfield for an engineering degree  

FOR more than ten years, Abdulrahman Al-Braik has combined a key role at one of the Middle East’s leading oil and gas producers with study and research at the University of Huddersfield.  Now, he has been awarded his doctorate. 

His PhD thesis so impressed examiners that they asked for only a few, minor changes to the text – a considerable achievement that crowns Dr Al-Braik’s long association with the UK university.  But his family links with Huddersfield will continue.  His son Mohamed Abdulrahman – sponsored by the Qatari government – is currently studying for an engineering degree. 
For over 20 years, Dr Al-Braik has worked in various departments within Gas Operations, responsible for gas processing in the state of Qatar.  In 1994, he was sponsored by his employers to study full time at the University of Huddersfield, first for an HND and then for a Bachelor of Engineering degree. 
Back at his organisation, Dr Al-Braik’s career as a mechanical engineer at the company led to an appointment as a Head of Engineering in the Department of Transmission and Distribution of Hydrocarbon Products. 
‌But despite his demanding role, he continued to study part time for postgraduate qualifications at the Huddersfield, using his annual leave to pay research visits to the University, taking his data back to Qatar for analysis. 
Gas Operations In 2005, he achieved an MPhil in mechanical engineering, and now he has been awarded his PhD for a thesis titled Detection and Diagnosis of Incipient Faults of Centrifugal Pumps, a topic that is of close relevance to his work, detecting and remedying faults before they effect production. 
During his PhD research, Dr Al-Braik was supervised by the University of Huddersfield’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, Professor Andrew Ball, who directs the Centre for Efficiency and Performance Engineering

“It’s been a pleasure to supervise Abdulrahman’s PhD” said Professor Ball.  “It’s very rewarding when a piece of doctoral-level research is based within a sector-leading industrial organisation.”

A doctorate was always his ultimate goal, said Dr Al-Braik.  By continuing his studies part-time he continually enhanced his skills and knowledge of the latest technology, he added.  Now Dr Al-Braik actively encourages other Qatari students to work towards postgraduate degrees at the University of Huddersfield.

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