Professor D. L. H. Williams

Physical organic chemist at Durham


Daniel Lyn Howell Williams, chemist: born Ammanford, Carmarthenshire 6 August 1936; Assistant Lecturer in Chemistry, University College Swansea 1961-62; Lecturer in Chemistry, Durham University 1963-77, Senior Lecturer 1977-85, Reader 1985-91, Professor 1991-2001 (Emeritus), Head of Department of Chemistry 1992-95; married 1961 Lona Tayson (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved), 1995 Gill Humphrys; died Newcastle upon Tyne 1 September 2006.

When D. L. H. Williams was in his first job - and perhaps the most junior member of staff - at University College, Swansea, he was made an offer he could not refuse. Would he like to deliver the undergraduate lectures in Chemical Thermodynamics? His stomach dropped, but that there was nothing to do but to get his head down and get on with it. Later he said that this was about the best thing that could have happened to him. After this ordeal by fire, he felt that he could tackle almost anything.

Williams, a physical organic chemist and Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Durham University, became renowned for his work in the field of nitrosation reactions and latterly for his contributions to pathways for in vivo formation of nitric oxide (NO).

Daniel Lyn Howell Williams was born in Ammanford, Carmarthenshire, in 1936 and brought up bilingually. He attended Ammanford Grammar School before studying Chemistry at University College London. He chose to study for his doctorate in the field of physical organic (mechanistic) chemistry, largely the creation at UCL of Christopher Ingold and Edward Hughes, into whose orbit his research adviser, Peter de la Mare, an Aucklander, had earlier been drawn. The research was concerned with the pathways and intricacies of allylic rearrangements and from the number and quality of the publications that accrued, it was evident that a promising research career lay ahead for Williams.

He stayed on at UCL for a further year to work with Hughes (a native of Criccieth), to probe the mechanism of the benzidine rearrangement which had troubled chemists for over half a century, and whose sphinx-like character partially resisted this determined pan-Welsh scrutiny.

Williams spent 1961-62 as an Assistant Lecturer at Swansea before going to Durham in 1963, as Lecturer in Chemistry. There he developed an interest in nitrosation by entities such as XNO, in which X is variable, and was not helped by the instability of the parent nitrous acid, HONO. Like a medieval map-maker he patiently, doggedly, determinedly and with much low-key forensic skill, charted the terrain and waters. He pursued the mechanistic details of the nitrosation of four different elements - carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and sulphur - with nitrosation agent nitrous acid (HONO), esters (e.g. CH 3ONO), nitrosothiols, and oxides of nitrogen with a variety of catalysts, for instance thiourea, which forms a very useful adduct (NH 2) 2 CSNO +.

Williams was led to consider the physiological chemistry of the "parent" entity NO (nitric oxide), an extremely unstable gas in air. Nitric oxide mediates vascular tonus (blood vessel relaxation), affects neurotransmission, and is involved in pathogen suppression and the regulation of blood pressure; excess nitric oxide can lead to toxic shock. So part of Williams evolved into a physical organic biochemist. Biochemistry is but chemistry proceeding under severely restricted conditions, most evidently that of temperature. Latterly he was concerned with important compounds in which the NO group is bonded to sulphur.

Further details are to be found in his books Nitrosation (1988) and Nitrosation Reactions and the Chemistry of Nitric Oxide (2004). A very readable synopsis, "A Chemist's View of the Nitric Oxide Story", was published by Williams in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry in 2003.

Williams pursued a longstanding collaboration with a group at Santiago de Compostela, and also, more recently, one at the Middlesex Hospital, and he was supported throughout by one-to-one colloquia with one of his former teachers, John Ridd, at UCL, who shared similar interests.

A successful university teacher surmounts three challenges - research, teaching and administration. Lyn Williams's high-quality research is manifest from the number of his publications (and associated books) whose significance is attested by their incidence of citation.

His teaching at all levels was excellent: he had an enviable repartee with his classes. On certain Monday mornings gentle barbs went thither or hither according as to whether Wales had won (or otherwise) in the then Five Nations. He had a facility for putting students at ease; but, having induced calm, he was no soft touch. His penchant for administration led to his appointment as Head of Department at Durham from 1992 to 1995. He ran a happy ship.

And yet, to a casual observer, Williams never seemed to get out of second gear. Supremely well organised, he was the antithesis of Churchill's allusion to "Every train should be given a sporting chance of getting away . . ." I don't think that Lyn Williams ever missed a train, or an appointment, and I doubt that he ever came close.

His keen interest in choral music led to his appearance on Sunday Night at the London Palladium as a member of the London Welsh Male Voice Choir, c 1960; he was later a founder (and long-time) member of the Northern Sinfonia Chorus. He played the organ regularly at his local church and during research visits to Santiago de Compostela he was given permission to play the organ in the cathedrals both there and at Burgos.

A keen club cricketer and former UCL first team squash player, Williams was axiomatically a Welsh rugby fan; when John Taylor achieved his legendary try conversion in the last minute from the touchline against Scotland at Murrayfield (in the early Seventies), Williams's quiet elation was such that he playfully renamed the ground ("maes" being "field" in Welsh) "Maesmurray".

David Morris

Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
sport
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary