WE first met Darrell 20 years ago while we were searching for the very best PhD students with which to work. Reflecting on Darrell’s many qualities, perhaps the one that first stood out to us was his sheer intelligence and ability.
Darrell’s outstanding performance in his first degree from the University of Auckland and his scooping of prizes for final-year design and best student really set him apart. We offered him a studentship and he came to London.
He was a fantastic PhD researcher – curious, willing to challenge established thinking, ingenious in devising experimental strategies, and ruthless at checking the consistency and accuracy of all the data.
He completed his thesis in 2001. It was entitled Wet Air Oxidation of Linear Alkylbenzene Sulphonate as a Pre-Treatment for Biological Degradation. The title gives a clue to another of Darrell’s special qualities: doing something useful, something good for the world, was a powerful motivator for Darrell and remained so throughout his career. He always kept a strong focus on the environment and sustainability in his research and teaching.
After he finished his PhD, Darrell worked with the consultancy WS Atkins, specialising in supercritical water oxidation technology. He was responsible for developing and writing the UK Environmental Agency’s Best Available Techniques (BAT) manuals, including one for wool-scouring wastewater treatment.
But once charmed by academic research it is hard to stay away. Darrell re-joined the Livingston Group at Imperial College where he moved into a completely new area concerned with the enhancement of pharmaceutical reactions via integration with specialised membranes. This reflects another of Darrell’s qualities as a researcher – he was very versatile and was always seeking new and interesting lines of enquiry. However he was ambitious and ready to start his own research group. The family moved back to New Zealand where Darrell became a lecturer at the University of Auckland. Here he really came into his own, expanding his research interests to a wider vista of green chemical engineering – that is to say, figuring out ways of making the things society wants and needs whilst not harming the environment. He developed his own strong research programme, including winning a University of Auckland Early Career Research Excellence award.
In 2011 he joined the faculty at the University of Bath, and the family moved back to the UK. Darrell quickly re-established his research programme and soon had a large group working on green and sustainable processes based on membrane technology.
Darrell was a fantastic mentor – all of his former students and staff comment that he was simultaneously inspirational, demanding, caring, and fun. There have been many successes in his research career but we mention one in particular. The most prestigious fellowship one can win in Europe is a European Research Council Investigator Award. These are awarded to exceptional and outstanding researchers. Darrell applied for one of these and was successful – this truly marked him out as a leading researcher.
Darrell was also an excellent teacher, committed to sharing knowledge with his students and co-workers.
Furthermore, he was always supportive of the discipline of chemical engineering. Most recently he took up the position of chairman of IChemE’s Catalysis SIG Committee; a committee both he and Emma, his wife, had served on for some time. He approached this new task with characteristic energy and focus. He expanded the committee to include more international members and increased the frequency of the technical meetings.
The committee meetings themselves were relaxed in manner, lively, but organised and relentless in their aim to provide and improve the environment in which research would flourish. At one meeting at a pub in London on a beautiful autumnal evening last year, the landlord insisted that the committee all remain within a line painted about two feet from the building while holding their meeting. Darrell of course found the humour in the situation immediately and led the ensuing acrobatic manoeuvres along the line! He was always pushing boundaries. We would have expected no less!
I think we can safely speak for the many people who Darrell met and influenced throughout his career: he will be greatly missed.
Darrell leaves behind his wife Emma, and daughters Matilda, Hannah-Elisabeth, and Sophia. Our thoughts are with them.
Written by Andrew Livingston, FIChemE and Ian Metcalfe, FIChemE