Professor Alexander McKenzie

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Professor Alexander McKenzie

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Alexander McKenzie was born in Dundee on 6 December 1869, the son of a teacher. From an early age he took a strong interest in Classics, and was an outstanding student at Dundee High School and at St Andrews University, where he went at fifteen. On completing his MA Degree in 1889, however, he took up his other interest in chemistry, with a teaching career in view, and graduated BSc in 1891. He was encouraged in particular by Thomas Purdie, who took him on as a lecture assistant from 1891 to 1893, when he became one of the first 'University Assistants'. Teaching took up most of his time till 1896, when he began research work in Purdie's field of stereochemistry and optical activity. This led him to leave St. Andrews in 1898 for the stimulating atmosphere the University of Berlin, where he studied at Landolt's laboratory, with its excellent polarimetric equipment. By 1899 he had fulfilled the requirements for his DSc Degree, but he returned to make further investigations in collaboration with the eminent Marckwald. He also took a strong interest in German language and culture. McKenzie left Berlin early in 1901, after graduating PhD cum laude, with an outstanding dissertation, and took up a research studentship of the Grocers' Company at the Jenner Institute in London. In October 1902 he became Assistant Lecturer and Demonstrator in Chemistry at Birmingham University, and then was appointed head of the Chemistry Department at Birkbeck College, London, in 1905. Here he was confronted with heavy teaching and administrative duties, but argued for the importance of (and continued to carry out) research work. In 1914, he was appointed to the Chair of Chemistry in University College, Dundee. During the First World War he was engaged in chemical work of national importance, but on the cessation of hostilities he was able to return to the stereochemical research work for which he now had more time and space. There followed a long string of articles, written in collaboration with a large number of research students-at the time of his election into the Royal Society in 1916 he had published 44 original research papers. When he retired from the Chair in 1938 the total had risen to about 120. He also continued to teach organic chemistry, and inorganic chemistry to first-year students. McKenzie kept up his international contacts and interests in culture, and in golf. On his retirement he continued to take an interest in his old department, but he suffered recurrent asthma and died on 11 June 1951.

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