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Warwick Farewell - Dr Robert Pettifer

Dr Robert Pettifer

It was with great sadness that we learnt of the recent death of Robert Pettifer, a pioneer of synchrotron science and an active member of Diamond’s User Working Groups. He retired from the Physics Department of the University of Warwick in 2007 due to illness. He had been at Warwick since 1972.

His scientific legacy is exceptionally wide-ranging and is characterised by the application of new techniques to his interests in both physical and life sciences. While his work covers topics as diverse as protein crystallography and magnetostriction, he is most widely recognised for his contribution to the experimental and theoretical development of Extended X-ray Absorption Fine Structure, which allows the atomic arrangement of matter to be unravelled by x-ray spectroscopy.

Robert Pettifer was a true pioneer of synchrotron science. In the early days of synchrotron radiation he developed instrumentation and techniques for spectroscopy at the NINA synchrotron radiation facility at Daresbury, and later at the SRS, where he worked on a diversity of projects including the optical luminescence following x-ray absorption and, more recently, the Borrmann effect. During a sabbatical at DESY (Hamburg), he designed and built a monochromator and an absolute X-ray energy calibration device to assist his measurements and research on metallo-enzymes, and at the ESRF (Grenoble) he developed high precision ionisation chambers and developed a technique for measuring femtometer atomic displacement via x-ray spectroscopy. His experience has proved invaluable to Diamond, specifically Beamline I20 where he was a key member of the Working Group and an initiator of the beamline design concept.

Despite his illness, he remained actively engaged in research, and visited Diamond in December to look at the new beamlines and discuss scientific results.

Robert was a tremendous teacher of physics and took pride in being able to explain the most complex physics to the layperson, gaining many friends as a result. He will be remembered fondly by those of us who had the privilege of working with him, as a genuine enthusiast of science.