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Internal News - 27 October 2006

The death of Professor Herman Bachelard 1929-2006

Herman Bachelard was born at Melbourne, Australia, and gained his BSc in Chemistry and Microbiology from Melbourne University in 1951. The next five years were spent in chemical industry at Sydney and Melbourne before he returned to academia in 1956, achieving an MSC and PhD in Biochemistry at Monash University.

He was awarded a CJ Martin Travelling Scholarship in 1960, which enabled him to come to England where he spent two years, one at the Institute of Psychiatry working with Professor Henry McIlwain on the biochemistry of the brain, a field that was to become his research focus. He returned to Australia to take up a lectureship in biochemistry at Monash University, where he stayed until 1965, when he was offered a permanent academic post at the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London.

Professor Bachelard's connection with Bath began in 1975 when was appointed to the Chair of Biochemistry. In his later years, Professor Bachelard looked back on his period at Bath as the most fruitful of his career and they were certainly the most important in the development of Biochemistry at Bath.

At the time of Professor Bachelard's appointment, the Biochemistry Group was the smallest and newest of the three sub-departments running a BSc (Hons) course in the School of Biological Sciences. The Group had no professor, and consisted of only six academic staff. During Professor Bachelard's time, the size of both the undergraduate and postgraduate population of the group increased sharply.

Along with this increase came a rise in the reputation of the undergraduate program, such that the A-level offer had risen by five grade points in the three years he was here. The high current standing of the undergraduate degree courses in Biochemistry at Bath goes back to his time here.

Equally important were the effects of Professor Bachelard's influence on the research activities of the Biochemistry Group. He promoted the first Biochemical Society meeting at Bath, in those days a coup for a small department. He was a major figure in the International Society for Neurochemistry and was instrumental in creating the new European Society for Neurochemistry which held its extraordinarily successful inaugural meeting in Bath in 1976.

Within the University, he made many representations to the Centre for proper investment into Biochemistry, and was able to gain appropriate funding into the infrastructure of the Group, as well obtaining approval for three additional academic appointments that allowed the expansion of School's research and teaching program to include Immunochemistry and Cell Biology, subjects that are now at the forefront of the cell and molecular life sciences.

After only one year at Bath, Professor Bachelard became Head of School, a position that, alongside Head of the Biochemistry Group, he carried out with his unique combination of efficiency and flair. He had excellent inter-personal skills and showed himself to be a person who genuinely seemed to like everyone he met. He looked for the best in people, and generally found it. His office door was always open both to staff and students. He maintained wide contacts outside the School as well, and encouraged collaboration with staff in Psychology and Pharmacy. Evenings at the SCR bar were always enlivened when Professor Bachelard was present and he was available for any type of discussion, scientific, philosophical or personal.

Professor Bachelard left Bath in 1979 to take up the Chair of Biochemistry at St Thomas' Medical School where he continued to play a major role in the development of the both the International and the European Society for Neurochemistry, concluding his career as Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Nottingham. He was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2004 and underwent extensive treatment to fight the disease, bearing the inevitable consequences with stoic courage and characteristic cheerfulness. Herman Bachelard died at his home in Nottingham on 12 September 2006, aged 76 years.

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