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posted Wednesday, March 17, 2004



Harry IrvingWith Camera and Pen

Impressions by


OXFORD-BORN DR. HARRY IRVING, Vice-Principal of St. Edmund Hall, and University Demonstrator in the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory, is a product of SS. Mary and John School (where his father, John Irving, was headmaster), New College School and St. Bedes School, Cumberland, to which he won a Foundation Scholarship. He took his B.A. and B.Sc. degrees from the Queen's College, where he was Hastings Scholar and Grindal Exhibitioner, and by 1930 he was a Doctor of Philosophy, a senior student of the University, and ready for a period of research undertaken at the van t'Hoff Laboratory, Utrecht, under Professor Ernst Cohen.

Up to this time his interest had been in organic chemistry, and he was just wondering whether the time had come for him to move on from Oxford when, through a chance meeting with the late Professor Soddy at the Oxford Ice Rink (of which more in a moment), he was offered the post of Demonstrator at the Inorganic Chemistry Department, which he accepted. This entailed a change of subject, from the study of carbon compounds, such as dyestuffs, synthetic drugs, and the constituents of animals and plants, to the study of inorganic compounds derived from mineral substances -- a change which at first he did not welcome. As time has gone by, however, he has found himself able to combine the two interests.

His work deals broadly with the development of new chemical substances for the measurement of minute amounts of metals, and he has on hand at the moment the problem of determining traces of silver in effluents where only one ounce may be present in eight hundred thousand gallons! This sort of work has obvious applications, in forensic medicine for instance, in the safeguarding of foodstuffs, and in industry in general; but it is true to say that his own real love lies in the research aimed at understanding the fundamentals of these analytical procedures, trying to discover just why metals do react to form compounds. Like most university science tutors, he also undertakes a formidable teaching programme, and he has for many years been the senior examiner in general science for G.C.E., as well as for many University examinations.

The articleHe says he is not a man who finds social intercourse an easy matter, but in two spheres in particular he has found it easy to make lasting friendships. As a younger man he spent a great deal of his spare time at the Ice Rink, and skating and dancing on ice became a ruling passion in his life. Figure-skating especially appealed to him, not only for the grace of movement it entailed, but also for the mathematical precision it required. His own prowess as a skater eventually qualified him to become a judge for the British Amateur Championships. His association with the members of the Churchill and Apollo Masonic Lodges has provided him with a second and much appreciated opportunity to meet his fellows and form close attachments which would otherwise have been denied him.

As I went up the stairs to his pleasant flat in Crick Road, I heard sounds of music and found him seated at his grand piano, playing a little-known piece by Rachmaninoff. Music of one sort or another was always to be heard in his boyhood home, and he was only in his early twenties when he passed the examination to become a Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music. Playing the music of the masters -- especially Bach -- improvising, and even composing a little are his main relaxations now that skating (and rock-climbing) are no longer possible. The fact that his wife is also a great lover of piano music adds to his own enjoy-ment of the brief periods he can snatch from his University and College duties, from the preparation of material for the scientific Press and from the voluminous correspondence he carries on with scientists in many parts of the world.

Mrs. [Monica] Irving accompanied her husband when, on a lecture tour in 1953 and as visiting professor to the University of Minnesota in 1955, he paid extended visits to America, whose people Dr. Irving very much admires for their open-hearted friendliness. He very much hopes to go again to the United States, but in December he will, if all goes well, find himself in very different surroundings, having accepted an invitation from Russian scientists to lecture in Moscow, an experience to which he is looking forward with anticipation.


Photos of Moscow conference

© Focal Point 2004 F Irving write to David Irving