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Prof. Peter Derrick 1945 - 2017
20 February 2017


Dear Colleagues,

The BMSS were saddened to hear of the recent death of Peter Derrick, Professor of Biophysics in the Department of Physics at The University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Peter was born in 1945 near Fareham in Hampshire and spent his early years in south east England, remaining close to Portsmouth, where the aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable on which his father served was docked. A product of the 11plus system that enabled bright students to attend Grammar Schools, he went on to obtain both a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Chemistry (1966) and a PhD in Physical Chemistry (1969) from Kings College London.

Peter held the first ever Royal Society European Fellowship in Stockholm at KTH Royal Institute of Technology (1969–1970), where he experimented with, among other things, photoelectron spectroscopy, state-selected mass spectrometry and vibrational spectroscopy to probe electronic structures of organic molecules. In Sweden, Peter developed a lifelong taste for working abroad and met his future wife, Kärsti. Highly-cited publications from this period on the electronic structure of medium-sized organic molecules helped forge an enduring international profile.

From 1971 to 1972, Peter continued his innovative work on field ionisation kinetics at the Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, Berkley, before returning to the UK in 1973, Peter as a recipient of the prestigious Ramsay Memorial Fellowship at University College London.  In 1975, Peter took up a position as Lecturer in the Department of Physical Chemistry at La Trobe University in Melbourne. Here he built upon his earlier work at Kings College London and KTH, and with the aid of a skilled workshop, constructed a number of pioneering instruments for field ionisation and desorption studies. Peter climbed quickly up the academic ranks, becoming Senior Lecturer in 1977 and Reader in 1978, while his grand-scale magnetic-sector mass spectrometer became the stuff of legends and was named MMM after a Sydney radio station by Steen Hammerum, a regular visitor to the lab. Boasting an seven tonne laminated magnet and one metre radius electric sector, the reverse geometry instrument aimed to provide for analyses of what was then considered very high mass ions (up to 20,000 or more). At La Trobe and subsequently he was able to attract talented students to work with him, with applications taking advantage of the MMM’s high-resolution, long-lifetimes or high-mass capabilities enabling the study of peptides and polymers and generating vast volumes of work in particular on the characterisation and theory of CID.

In 1981, Peter became the youngest ever full professor at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). He was appointed Professor of Physical Chemistry (1981–1987), Head, Department of Physical Chemistry (1981–1987) and later Head, School of Chemistry (1985–1987). Peter took his grand spectrometer (MMM) with him to Sydney and later to the UK, when he returned to his home country to join the University of Warwick. As Kratos Research Professor of Mass Spectrometry (1987–1994), Professor of Chemistry (1987–2007), Director, Institute of Mass Spectrometry (1988–2007) and Head, Department of Chemistry (1995–2007), Peter continued to develop a series of novel instruments, focussing on, among other things, time-of-flight mass spectrometry and various combinations of sector-TOF instrument, both commercial systems and hybridisation of MMM. In 1995, with Keith Jennings, he won a bid to host a National FT-ICR facility and duly set up a lab with another heavy-weight instrument; the 14 tonne passively shielded 9.4 T FT-ICR, which became a focal point for a number of important biological applications. Peter also worked at the forefront of matrix-assisted laser desoption/ionisation using tune-able lasers to probe the desorption process and characterise the energetics of ion production. TOF instrumentation was still a major interest, particularly high-resolution which led to the development of the quadratic field reflectron and ultimately a commercial instrument. The early 2000's saw a collaboration with Michisato Toyoda from Osaka to combine Toyoda's multi-turn TOF technology with the quadratic field reflectron and produce an ultra-high resolution tandem TOF.

After two decades at Warwick and having taken the Department of Chemistry from a three- to five-star rated department in the UK Research Assessment Exercises, Peter embarked on the next stage of his career, moving to New Zealand to take on the role of Head of the Institute of Fundamental Sciences (2007–2012) and Professor of Physical Chemistry and Chemical Physics (2007–2012) at Massey University.  In 2013, he became Professor of Biophysics at the University of Auckland.

Peter’s passion for research and dedication to scientific communication led to him working Al Burlingame on landmark biennial reviews of mass spectrometry for Analytical Chemistry. Assessing the most important and recent results in the field, these reviews had a profound influence on the future direction of mass spectrometry. Peter also co-founded with the late Professor Allan Maccoll and was Editor-in-Chief of the European Journal of Mass Spectrometry. He continued to devote enormous time and energy to the journal; as Ian Michael wrote recently, the journal would not have existed without Peter.

Peter received numerous distinguished prizes and awards over the course of his career. In 2007, Peter received the RSC’s Thermo Fisher Scientific Award; in 2009, he was awarded the Morrison Medal of the Australian and New Zealand Society for Mass Spectrometry. Peter was a Meldola Medallist of the RSC and Rennie Medallist of the RACI. In 2015, he received the Australian and New Zealand Society for Mass Spectrometry’s highest award, the ANZSMS Medal, which had been awarded only twice before.

Peter is survived by his wife, Kärsti, and two children, Emma and Oliver, as well as his son-in-law, Mark, and two grandchildren, Milla and Remy, all of whom he was immensely proud.

On behalf of the BMSS,

Gavin O'Connor (Chair)


Peter Derrick

Prof. Peter Derrick 1945 - 2017


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