Sir Henry Enfield Roscoe was born in London on 7 January 1833, the son of a barrister and judge. He entered University College, London in 1848, graduating in chemistry in 1852. He then went to study at Heidelberg, receiving a Ph.D. in 1854, and undertaking research work with Robert Wilhelm Bunsen on the measurement of the chemical action of light. In 1857 Roscoe was appointed to the chair of chemistry at Owens College, Manchester. He came to Manchester when the College was at its lowest ebb, but he grasped the great need for scientific education in an industrial city. Roscoe took an active role in building up a school of chemical research at Manchester. He made the chemistry department at Owens College one of the most successful in the country and he was instrumental in reviving the College's fortunes more generally. In 1875 he constructed the first practical chemistry laboratories in any British university, based on Bunsen's laboratories in Heidelberg.
As a chemist Roscoe's most important work was on the isolation and classification of the element vanadium. His textbook, Lessons in Elementary Chemistry went through many editions, and the inorganic section of his Treatise on Chemistry was for many years the standard work. He also published on Dalton's atomic theory, in A New View of the Origin of Dalton's Atomic Theory, (jointly with Dr Arthur Hamer 1896), where he argued that the law of multiple proportions was not the genesis but the confirmation of the idea of chemical atoms.
Roscoe was keen to promote the industrial training of chemists at university. He was a member of the Royal Commission on Technical Education from 1882 to 1884, whose findings led to the Technical Instruction Act of 1889. He frequently acted as a consultant to local authorities over actions against pollution. Roscoe also worked to persuade industrialists of the importance of scientific training of personnel.
In 1885 he resigned his professorship on being elected Liberal MP for South Manchester. As an MP, Roscoe promoted legislation on the ventilation of weaving sheds, sewage disposal and the metric system. In 1896 he became Vice-Chancellor of London University at the time of its reconstitution. Roscoe was founder and first president of the Society of Chemical Industry, and also president of the Chemical Society and of the British Association in Manchester.
In 1863 Roscoe married Lucy (d 1910), daughter of Edmund Potter MP; they had one son and two daughters. He was knighted in 1884. He died at Woodcote, his summer home near Leatherhead, Surrey, on 18 December 1915.
Source: Robert H. Kargon, 'Roscoe, Sir Henry Enfield (1833-1915)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/35827.