WILKINSON, Sir Geoffrey, 1921-1996

Scope and Content

Biographical material comprising autobiographical writing, shorter biographical writings by others, documentation of the award of the Nobel Prize including an extensive sequence of letters of congratulation, a photographic record which includes an early, 1943, photograph taken in Montreal and photographs of a number of honorary degree and similar occasions not otherwise documented.

papers from Wilkinson's time at Imperial College London include correspondence with Imperial College Rectors and senior College administrators, 1978-1989; records relating to the Chemistry Department, 1979-1993, concerning building plans, finance and funding, Wilkinson's post-retirement plans amongst, requests to work in Wilkinson's laboratory, 1984-1993; research records relating to matters of funding, 1977-1993, principally from the Science Research Council/Science and Engineering Research Council; drafts relating to patents, ca 1976-ca 1985.

papers relating to the journal Polyhedron, where Wilkinson was chairman of the editorial board 1980-1993; records relating to societies including the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

correspondence, 1981-1993, reflecting Wilkinson's continuing interest in research; correspondence with politicians, covering science policy, university funding and Imperial College matters 1972-1988; correspondence arising from Russia's non-observance of International Copyright Conventions, 1969-1975.

Administrative / Biographical History

Born in Springside, Yorkshire on 14 July 1921. Educated in the local council primary school, 1932 won a County Scholarship went to Todmorden Secondary School; 1939 awarded Royal Scholarship for study at Imperial College London, graduated 1941; PhD under supervision of H.V.A. Briscoe, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry, thesis title 'Some Physicochemical Observations on Hydrolysis in the Homogeneous Vapour Phase'; 1942 joined F.A. Paneth on nuclear energy project; 19 43 - 1946 worked in Canada; 1946 joined Glenn T. Seaborg's research group University of California at Berkeley, first non-American to be cleared by the US Atomic Energy Commission for work at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory; worked on nuclear taxonomy making new neutron deficient isotopes using the cyclotrons of the Radiation Laboratory. 1950 joined Massachusetts Institute of Technology investigating transition metal complexes such as carbonyls and olefin complexes; 1951 Assistant Professorship at Harvard; 1955 returned to England, worked with organic chemist R.B. Woodward, recognised unprecedented molecular 'sandwich structure' of the organometallic compound now known as ferrocene (bis-(cyclopentadienyl) iron, Cp2Fe); 1955 Wilkinson appointed chair of Inorganic Chemistry at Imperial College London, (only established chair in the United Kingdom at that time) worked on complexes of transition metals, the complex chemistry of ruthenium, rhodium and rhenium, in compounds of unsaturated hydrocarbons and with metal to hydrogen bonds, leading to work on homogeneous catalytic reactions such as hydrogenation and hydroformylation of olefins; published Advanced Inorganic Chemistry with F.A. Cotton, 1962; 1982 edited the nine-volume Comprehensive Organometallic Chemistry; elected FRS in 1965 (Royal Medal 1981, Davy Medal 1996); 1973 awarded Nobel Prize for Chemistry (with E.O. Fischer) 'for their pioneering work, performed independently, on the chemistry of the organometallic, so called sandwich compounds'; knighted for contributions to chemistry in 1976; died on 26 September 1996.

Access Information

Researchers wishing to consult the Archives should first contact the College Archivist, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, Exhibition Road, London SW7 2AZ, for an appointment.

Acquisition Information

Placed in the College Archives, Imperial College London, 2002.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogues are available in the reading room of the College Archives NCUACS catalogue no.110/9/02

Conditions Governing Use

A photocopying service is available at the discretion of the Archivist. Photocopies are supplied for research use only. Requests to publish original material should be submitted to the Archivist.

Custodial History

The papers were received from the Chemistry Department, Imperial College London and Lady Wilkinson, 1998 and 2001, respectively.

Related Material

Records of the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering (KC), held at Imperial College