In the field of Liquid Crystal (LC) research the name Professor George Gray is widely known and his reputation is highly regarded. However, this pioneer who defined and formalised the discipline of LC research and discovered the LC material that allowed the development of workable LCD technology is yet to be widely recognised as an important adoptive son of Hull.
Education and Early Life
Born on 4 September 1926 in Denny, Scotland, he was educated at Denny Public School before undertaking his undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow. Upon graduating in 1946 financial constraints meant he had to find work and so he found employment as a laboratory demonstrator at the University of Hull in 1946. In 1947 he was made an assistant lecturer and began his PhD research. In 1953 he completed his doctoral thesis. In the same year he married his wife Marjorie and they went on to have 3 daughters, Caroline, Veronica and Elizabeth.
Academic and Professional Career
He undertook much of his early research in a chemistry department led by Professor (later Sir) Brynmor Jones when the university was still accredited by UCL and was known as University College Hull. He was to remain at the University of Hull for most of his working life advancing through to the highest positions in the Chemistry department. In 1949 he was promoted to lecturer and then to senior lecturer in 1960.
He was made a Reader in Organic Chemistry in 1964 and then a Professor of Organic Chemistry in 1978 following his qualification as a Chartered Chemist (C Chem) and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC) in 1972. In 1984 he was appointed to the G F Grant Established Chair and Professorship of Chemistry, and was to serve his final two years at the university from 1989 as Head of the Department of Chemistry.
After leaving the university in 1990 he was appointed as Research Coordinator at Merck Ltd UK in which capacity he worked until Aug 1993. From September 1993 he worked as a Research Consultant for the company until his retirement.
He was highly active in his chosen field and his professional activities were consequently numerous. He worked as UK editor of Molecular Crystals and Liquid Crystals (1979-1991) and the International Journal of Liquid Crystals (from 1992). He also undertook consultancy and advisory work with various bodies including the Centre for Self Organising Molecular Systems, University of Leeds (from 1993), Hallcrest Ltd Poole, UK, and Chicago, USA (from 1996), and Electronics Sector, DERA, Malvern, UK (from 1998).
He was also a member of various societies, councils and forums including the 21st Century Materials Committee of the Science and Engineering Research Council (for 5 years until 1993), the Yorkshire Section of the Association for Science Education (1984-1985), the Chemistry Division of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1993), the Physical Sciences Sub-Committee of the UGC undertaking University Research Selectivity Rating (1984-1990), the Displays Committee of the Alvey/DTI Directorate (1984-1989), the Physical Sciences Sub-Committee of the Royal Society (1984-1988), the International Liquid Crystal Society, the British Liquid Crystal Society, the UK Southern Science and Technology Forum (from 1993), the Southern Science and Technology Forum (1996-2000), and the East Dorset Section of Southern Science and Technology Forum (1996-2000).
In later years he was closely involved in the establishment of the Southampton Liquid Crystal Institute involving research groups from departments of chemistry, mathematics and physics, being the Chairman of the Advisory Board (1990s).
In addition to this work, Professor Gray also served as an external examiner for first degrees (CNAA) Trent Polytechnic for 4 years, for first degrees The Queen’s University Belfast for 5 years, for Musgrave Awards of the Queen’s University Belfast from 1988, and for PhD degrees in over 35 Universities and Polytechnics. He was also an external assessor for the appointment of new professors in 5 universities, and supervised the research of 50 research students on MSc and PhD degrees 1950-1990.
After a lifetime of work his research publications and patents numbered over 360. His major works include a book Molecular Structure and Properties of Liquid Crystals published in 1962 (the first book on the subject to be published in English), the article detailing his most famous discovery of cyanobiphenyls ‘New Family of Nematic Liquid Crystals for Displays’ (with K. Harrison and J. Nash) published in 1973, ‘A Liquid Crystal Mixture for Use in Smectic Liquid Crystal Display Devices’ (with A. Mosley) published in 1976, ‘Liquid Crystal Compounds Incorporating the trans-1, 4-Substituted Cyclohexane Ring System (with D. McDonnell)’ published in 1979, ‘The Synthesis and Transition Temperatures of Some 4,4"-dialkyl-and 4,4"-aldoxyalkyl-1,1': 4',1"-terphenyls with 2, 3 or 2', 3'-difluoro substituents and of their biphenyl analogues’ (with M. Hird, D. Lacey and K. Toyne) published in 1989, and ‘Synthesis and Properties of Some Novel Ferroelectric Materials-Hosts and Dopants’ (with M. Hird, D. Lacey and K. Toyne) published in 1990, and the co-edited three volume Handbook of Liquid Crystals published by VCH.
Awards and Honours
His long career, characterised by dedication, hard work and innovation, was recognised by the award of various honours. As well as numerous honorary doctorates and memberships of scientific societies (including being made a member of the Royal Society), he was awarded a CBE in 1991, and was senior scientist when the Queen’s Award for Technological Advancement was given on two occasions (once whilst at the University of Hull in 1979 and once whilst at Merck Ltd UK in 1992).
He was also asked to be the Clifford Patterson Prize Lecturer by the Royal Society in 1985, was the Leverhulme Gold Medallist of the Royal Society in 1987, and was the Kyoto International Gold Medallist and Prize Laureate in Advances Technology in 1995. Local honours awarded to Professor Gray include an honorary doctorate from the University of Hull, presidency of Kingston Chemicals Ltd in 1999, and the naming of one of Hull Train’s 2005 Class 222 "Pioneer" trains "Professor George Gray".
Contacts and Friendships
At the heart of an international liquid crystal community, he often came into contact with other leading specialists in the field. In addition to the group working at Hull throughout his long career there, he included many such as Professor S. Chandrasekhar, Professor G. Scherowsky, Professor E. Chiellini, Dr P. Cladis, Professor Harry Coles, Professor Alan Leadbetter, Professor Duncan Bruce, Professor Sven Lagerwall, and Professor Cyril Hilsum as friends and colleagues.
In 1996 Professor Gray retired, although he continued to undertake consultation work. In his spare time his interests included gardening and British philately. After a long and successful career, supported by a loving wife and children, this well-respected man died just two weeks after his wife on 12 May 2013.
Papers relating to the work of Gray and his team at Hull can be found at the History Centre under the reference U DLCR.