John McKenzie Grant Cowie, Professor Emeritus at Heriot-Watt University since 1998, died peacefully, at home, following a short illness, on Tuesday 18th March 2014, aged 81.
Born on 31st May 1933, Professor Cowie, universally known as “Ian” was educated in Edinburgh. He graduated from Edinburgh University in 1955 with a first class honours degree in Chemistry. Appointed to the post of Assistant Lecturer there in 1956, he was awarded a PhD in 1958 for his work on “Problems in the Physical Chemistry of Starch with Special Reference to Amylose-Amylopectin Relationships”.
That year, 1958, proved extremely eventful. Not only had he completed his PhD and graduated, but in September he married Ann and moved to Canada having been awarded a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Research Council in Ottawa to work with Dr Stan Bywater on the hydrodynamic and thermodynamic properties of polymers. The serious car accident that followed later in that year had a permanent impact in his daily life but it did not stop him achieving great success in his academic career.
In 1960 Ian joined the permanent staff of the National Research Council as an associate officer, a post that he held until 1967 when he returned to the UK to assist Prof. Manfred Gordon in setting up a Polymer Research Consortium at the University of Essex. This involved physicists, mathematicians and chemists, all with a common interest in polymer science. In 1969 he headed north back to Scotland to take up a senior lectureship at the newly established University of Stirling. There he succeeded R. P. Bell to the chair of chemistry three years later, subsequently becoming head of the Chemistry Department from 1974 to 1988. It was during this time at Stirling that Ian supervised the first of his many postgraduate students and expanded his research interests from polymer solution behaviour to encompass studies of thermal, mechanical and dynamic properties of bulk polymers and their blends.
In 1988 he was appointed as foundation professor of chemistry of materials at Heriot-Watt University, the post he held until retirement in 1998. From that date to the present he has been Professor Emeritus.
At Heriot-Watt, Ian redesigned the undergraduate courses in materials and polymer science, and considerably expanded research in that area. He was head of department from 1991 to 1994 and continued to be very active in polymer research for many years after his retirement. During his academic career he supervised over 80 postgraduate students and postdoctoral research assistants, many of whom have subsequently moved to positions of responsibility in industry and academia. To many of them “The Prof” remained an advisor and mentor in their professional careers.
Ian has been a prominent and well-known figure among the polymer community. He was main editor of Polymer and served on the editorial boards of other journals such as Journal of Applied Polymer Science and Polymers for Advanced Technologies. He was prolific in his research output, publishing over 260 papers together with numerous book chapters, articles for encyclopaedias and books. Among these he is probably best known for his textbook “Polymers: Chemistry and Physics of Modern Materials”, also translated into German, and now in its third edition.
Ian strongly believed in promoting polymer education. This he did not only internally at Stirling and Heriot-Watt, but also via numerous short polymer courses delivered at academic institutions, industry, and as chairman of the RSC MacroGroup and the British High Polymer Forum. His interests in applied areas such as polymer blends and composites, liquid crystallinity and ion conduction meant that he was a consultant for many companies, among which were ICI, Courtaulds, DSM, Akzo and API Foils.
Ian’s work was recognized by many honours. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 1986 he was awarded a D.Sc. from Edinburgh University, and in 2001, the MacroGroup medal.
Despite his many commitments, he found the time to act as chairman of Council of Disability, Spinal Injuries Scotland and was vice-chairman of Disability Scotland. He enjoyed reading, music and painting.
In his retirement lecture, Ian wrote: “The boy could have done BETTER! but … he enjoyed doing what he did.” It was a typically modest account, but those that met him will agree that he did enjoy ALL that he did.
Professor Cowie is survived by his wife Ann, his son and daughter, Graeme and Christian, and three grandchildren, Emma, Lauren and Angus.