Obituary: Professor Leslie Young
Friday 08 January 1993
LESLIE YOUNG was one of a small group of workers who put the study of foreign compound metabolism on to a sure footing.
Young established a school of research alongside those of Eric Boyland and the late Tecwyn Williams which played a significant role in determining how the body copes with unfamiliar foreign, or toxic, compounds and how in turn it alters the structure of their molecules.
These studies were the forerunners of modern, rigorous work on environmental and other pollutants. While much of the early work, begun in the Thirties, concerned only whole-animal metabolism, it developed to explore isolated organs, cells and enzymes, establishing valuable knowledge of the mechanism of action of biochemical pathways.
After attending Sir Joseph Williamson's Mathematical School, in Rochester, Leslie Young went to the Royal College of Science, Kensington (later the Imperial College of Science and Technology) to take his BSc in chemistry; he was awarded the Sir Edward Frankland Prize and Medal of the Royal Institute of Chemistry. Research with the nutritionist Sir Jack Drummond at University College London followed, culminating in the award of the Ph D in 1934. After a year on the staff at University College Young went as Commonwealth Fund Fellow in Biochemistry to Washington, Missouri and Yale before being appointed Lecturer in Biochemistry back at University College in 1937. The war years were spent as Associate Professor at the University of Toronto, a post combined with work in chemical warfare on behalf of the Department of National Defence in Canada, which involved research with radioactive isotopes into the effects of nitrogen and sulphur mustard gases. From 1944 until 1947, Young was full professor at Toronto.
When Young returned to England in 1947 he was appointed Reader at University College London, to establish the MSc degree in biochemistry. Afterwards, he was appointed Professor of Biochemistry in the University at St Thomas's Hospital Medical School, a post he held for 28 years until his retirement in 1976. Young refurbished the antiquated teaching and research areas of the department, and later secured modernised laboratories. He gathered around him a succession of postgraduate students and junior staff to help further his research into the metabolism of foreign compounds.
Young excelled as an administrator and teacher. Never did he go into a debating chamber or a committee meeting other than thoroughly prepared, thereby securing and recommending courses of action based on sure knowledge of facts and figures. He was therefore an invaluable member and chairman of university and college committees and was Honorary Secretary of the Biochemical Society. His lectures were likewise a model of scrupulous preparation and clear diction, an attitude he constantly strove to impart to the lecturers in his department. He insisted on meticulous attention to detail in all things, be they lectures, tutorials or experiments at the laboratory bench. Woe betide any junior member of staff who ever was unprepared. As well as numerous publications in the biochemical literature, Young published, with George Maw, a monograph entitled The Metabolism of Sulphur Compounds (1958).
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