John Meurig Thomas (1932 – 2020)

Biography of John Meurig Thomas

  • John Meurig Thomas

Ri Postions:

  • Director, 1986-1991
  • Director of Davy Faraday Research Laboratory, 1986-1991
  • Fullerian Professor of Chemistry, 1988-1994
  • Professor of Chemistry, 1994-2006


Born in South Wales, John Meurig Thomas graduated with BSc and PhD degrees in Chemistry from the University College of Swansea. From 1958, he held academic positions in the University of Wales, initially as Lecturer at Bangor and subsequently as Professor at Aberystwyth. In 1978, he was appointed as Professor and Head of the Department of Physical Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, before moving to the RI as Director in 1986. Subsequently, he was Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge from 1993 to 2002.

He made many seminal contributions in the fields of solid-state chemistry and heterogeneous catalysis. His research at the RI focused on the study of zeolites and other microporous solid catalysts, generating deep insights into the structural, physical and catalytic properties of these technologically important materials through the application of a powerful combination of experimental and computational techniques, including several new techniques developed by Thomas and his co-workers. He led the development of the the concept of single-site heterogeneous catalysis, which in turn has led to the design of new generations of solid catalysts that have enabled the development of sustainable and environmentally beneficial ("green") chemical processes.

A prolific author and inspiring lecturer, Thomas published extensively, both on his research and on the history of science, including his book Michael Faraday and the Royal Institution: The Genius of Man and Place (1991). He co-presented the Christmas Lectures on Crystals and Lasers in 1987, and delivered several Friday Evening Discourses, perhaps most memorably his discourse on The Poetry of Science in 1986. Among many awards and honours that he received for his contributions to science, he was knighted in 1991 "for services to chemistry and the popularization of science", and a mineral (Meurigite) was named in his honour by the International Mineralogical Association in 1995.