An Appreciation: Pioneering Name in Biochemistry

The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), January 31, 2002 | Go to article overview

An Appreciation: Pioneering Name in Biochemistry


Desmond W Neill, MSC, OBE, who has died, was the eldest of three brothers born to Belfast parents on the Ormeau Road, Belfast.

The family moved to Liverpool in the early 1920s when their father was transferred to the Bootle works of Harland and Wolff Ltd.

Desmond received both primary and post-primary education in Liverpool. At the age of 14, he sat the Oxford School Certificate Examination, coming first in English and second overall in England. He then concentrated on Chemistry, Physics and English for the A Level examinations of the day.

However, his further education in England was cut short when, in 1937, his father was transferred back to Belfast.

He obtained a research studentship at the Lambeg Linen Industry Research Association, and whilst there he gained an external special chemistry degree from London University.

He decided to go into teaching, firstly obtaining a position with Bangor Grammar School and later with Methodist College, Belfast.

Desmond obtained a MSc degree in Chemistry from London University in 1949 and in 1952 became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemists.

He lectured part-time at Queen's University during the mid-1940s where he met Dorothy Marshall, daughter of the eminent cardiologist, Dr Robert Marshall, and they were married in 1949.

In 1951, Desmond became scientific officer in the Department of Biochemistry at the Royal Victoria Hospital, and eight years later was appointed head of the Biochemistry Department.

He brought biochemistry to the forefront of medicine. In 1959, his was the first biochemistry laboratory in the UK to become fully automated.

Automation and data processing were pioneered by Desmond, not only in his own laboratory but also throughout the rest of Northern Ireland. …

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