Professor Ian Ritchie
ChemCentre is located in the Ian Ritchie Wing of the Resources and Chemistry Precinct. A tireless champion of chemistry and its role in the community, Professor Ritchie was instrumental in leading the review of ChemCentre which recognised our work in protecting and developing Western Australia.
We celebrate Professor Ritchie’s legacy through our annual awards program, including the Ian Ritchie Achievement Award and the Ritchie Early Career Award. We also support a chemistry scholarship through Murdoch University, named in Professor Ritchie’s honour.
The obituary below was first published in Chemistry in Australia, a publication of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (www.chemaust.raci.org.au).
Ian Mackay Ritchie
Australia recently lost one of its brightest stars with the death of Professor Ian Ritchie AO DSc FAA FTSE, a most gifted and delightful human being. From the perspective of the Electrochemistry Division of the RACI, the passing of Ian Ritchie represents a loss of critical analysis and understanding of interfacial phenomena that was second to none.
Ian began an academic career with his primary degrees from Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in 1958 and he graduated in chemistry, physics, mathematics and biochemistry and topped it off with chemical engineering. Cambridge University awarded him a Doctor of Science in 1999 in recognition for his contribution to the field of electrochemistry.
Ian began his postgraduate career in the US in the new and rapidly developing field of semiconductors, making transistors by hand and developing a lifelong passion for the chemistry of the solid state. Turmoil in the semiconductor industry and an inner drive towards researching the fundamentals proved America's loss and Australia's gain in 1962, when he moved to a teaching post and PhD enrolment at the University of Melbourne. His thesis was acclaimed as 'a new approach to the ... derivation of rate laws for tarnishing reactions ... using for the first time a random walk analysis, represents a significant original contribution to the field'. His knowledge of solid-state chemistry, talent for elegant experimentation and practical problem-solving skills led him to become a leading expert in corrosion science. His 1981 paper in Corrosion Australia on the reaction of nitrite with aluminium , which definitively convicted nitrite 'inhibitors' as the culprit in the early failure of alloy engines in Perth's brand-new fleet of Mercedes buses, is a great example of his ability to apply fundamentals to the solution of practical problems. He also made many significant contributions to the development of the fundamentals themselves.
Ian moved to a position of Associate Professor at the University of Western Australia in 1972, and subsequently Professor of Chemistry and Pro·Vice Chancellor (Research) at Murdoch University. The best students clamoured to join his dynamic research groups. His lectures shone out from all the rest as interesting, challenging and, particularly, fun!
While at the University of Western Australia, Ian developed a strong friendship and fruitful collaboration with Jim Parker, out of which the vision of Perth as a world centre for hydrometallurgy was born. Jim's sudden and tragically early passing was a potentially terminal setback for that dream.
But Ian picked up the baton with furious determination and, by dint of masterful negotiation, creative adaption and just sheer hard work, brought the dream to fruition in the form of the A.J. Parker CRC for Hydrometallurgy. Under his leadership, the Parker Centre rapidly grew to become an acknowledged world-leading institute in its field. Its breadth of collaboration, research output and education programs were second to none by the time he stepped down after a decade at the helm.
Ian also made many contributions to public life, including as a member of the WA Premier's Science Council, the Joint Minerals Council Tertiary Education Taskforce and AVCC Committee, and the Working Group of the WA Minerals and Petroleum Education Research Institute. He worked tirelessly with the WA Clean Air Committee for over 20 years, in particular to bring effective emissions controls and regulation to the strategically important Kwinana industrial strip south of suburban Perth. He led a strategic review of the Chemistry Centre of WA (now ChemCentre) in 1982 and thereafter worked tirelessly to enhance the role and functionality of the Centre, which was then the largest single employer of chemists in the southern hemisphere. ChemCentre's position was finally enshrined in legislation in 2007, and the laboratories have been relocated to bespoke, world class laboratories (named 'The Ian Ritchie Wing' in his honour) in the Chemistry Precinct at Curtin University. The annual Ian Ritchie Achievement Awards have been established to recognise employee excellence at ChemCentre.
His many civic and academic honours include the Australasian Corrosion Medal (1979), the Stokes Medal for Electrochemistry (1997) and the Applied Research Medal of the RACI (1997), Doctor of Science from Cambridge University (1999) and the President's Award of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (2001). In 1997, he was made West Australian Citizen of the Year (Professions), and he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Murdoch University in 2002 . He was a Fellow of the RACI, the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering.
In 2014 he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), a crowning honour that came as a bittersweet, counterpoint to the raging sickness that was taking hold of his body. Hiding his illness with characteristic stoicism, this brilliant but humble man was astonished by the flood of congratulations that provided him comfort and reassurance in his final weeks. Family, friends, students and colleagues came from far and wide to farewell him and to recall not so much his achievements, but his heart of gold, soft humanity, real humility, and deep commitment to service and truth.
Ian Ritchie died of cancer on 12 August 2014. He is survived by Ann, their daughter Katherine Olsen, sons Andrew and Alex, and five grandsons.
Ian Macleod FRACI CChem and Greg Power FRACI CChem
Chemistry in Australia, April 2015