John B Dawson

Former Acting Head of the Department of Medical Physics, Leeds University

JOHN Dawson, who has died aged 77, left school in Todmorden at 15, joined the Department of Medical Physics at Leeds University in 1956, and retired in 1989 as Reader and acting head of department.

He took a keen interest in science from an early age and after leaving school got a job with ICI at Blakely,

Manchester. The company encouraged staff to participate in further education, and he took evening classes to gain an Intermediate BSc.

He went on to graduate in Physics at Manchester University and then, after a further year at ICI, arrived at Leeds, where he obtained a PhD, and helped found the University ski club.

As a PhD, he became interested in the application of physics to medicine and took up an MRC Fellowship in the Department of Medical Physics. At that time, a new analytical technique, atomic absorption spectrometry (AAS), had been introduced in Australia. He realised its potential for the analysis of biological materials and became one of its foremost pioneers in this country.

He set up long-standing collaborations with clinical and biochemical staff and forged links with a number of international firms who provided valuable support. He became deeply involved with the Society for Analytical Chemistry and served on its council.

He organised meetings on behalf of the society, including a highly successful international conference in 1969. Following that event, he played a leading part in launching a new publication, Annual Reports on AAS, which he later edited, and a series of biennial conferences on AAS.

He was a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Physics, reflecting his interest in both disciplines. His other research interests included the measurement of skin colour, radiochemical analysis and, in later years, the development of photo chemotherapy in the treatment of cancer. He published more than 150 scientific papers.

His academic achievements were recognised by his appointment as visiting professor at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) following his retirement from the University of Leeds.

He was very much a practical physicist, never so happy as when designing and building his own instruments, and he was particularly appreciative of the expertise of technical colleagues.

Over the years, in addition to research and teaching, he took on a number of departmental roles, and became a mentor to junior staff and was the person to whom colleagues would turn for sound advice.

However, it was as acting head of department that he made his most significant contribution. The unexpected death in 1983 of the then head of department, Prof Roy Parker, left the department very vulnerable. John took on the role with the aim of ensuring the continuation of medical physics as an academic discipline. Not only did he achieve this aim, but he also proved to be an outstandingly successful head of Department.

In 1989 he took early retirement as he had long planned, his honorary appointment at UMIST enabling him to carry on with his researches while pursuing his many other interests. He enjoyed cycling, walking, travel, photography and gardening, the art of bonsai being a particular interest.

He is survived by his wife Joyce and their two children.