Malcolm Gerloch: 1939-2023

Further to the tribute to Malcolm Gerloch by Peter Holland (Front Court, Spring 2024) may I add a few further reminiscences as a friend and research collaborator.

– Professor Richard Guy Woolley

Dr Malcolm Gerloch

We had a longstanding collaboration which resulted in about half a dozen substantial publications. I came to Trinity Hall in 1972 as a Research Fellow in Theoretical Chemistry and quickly got to know Malcolm and his family well. Over the following years we were often entertained by Annette and Malcolm at their house in Queen Edith’s Way. I recall amusing evenings playing bridge when he and I were on the receiving end of some sharp observations from our wives who were much better players! It was all good fun of course. Later, when we both had young families, some Christmas/ Boxing Days were shared together. Malcolm looked after his research group; there were regular gatherings at the pub next to the Lensfield Road Laboratory, and some years a member far from home was invited to the Gerloch home at Christmas time. As Peter noted, Malcolm was a very practical person; he was accomplished at wood-working and also plumbing. He took pride in the renovations he made at their house including fitting out a complete new kitchen, and installing a central heating system with all the controls we now take for granted.

As to research Malcolm had learnt his trade, magnetochemistry, in the research group of Professor Jack Lewis (later Baron Lewis of Newnham) in the 1960s. In 1968 he was awarded the Meldola Medal and Prize (£500) of the Chemical Society, the principal UK institution for academic chemistry. Malcolm moved to Cambridge when Lewis was appointed Professor of Inorganic Chemistry here in 1970. By then Malcolm had set out on a big project that his research group of graduate students and postdoctorals focussed on for at least 20 years. It was described in his ‘big book’ Magnetism and ligand field analysis published by CUP in 1983. He summed up its goal and achievements in the Preface, writing:

“Earlier exploitation of magnetism and ligand field theory was largely exemplary and full of promises: a mandate was established but for years the manifesto was not carried out. It now has been: and this book seeks to tell the story of how we start with real – rather than idealized – molecules and end up with answers which are useful and readily comprehensible to the mainstream inorganic chemist.”

Although the book contained lengthy chapters devoted to the relevant Physics – electromagnetism and atomic/molecular quantum theory – what really mattered to him were the final answers with the important machinery to get there kept in the background. At heart Malcolm was an inorganic chemist. This substantial body of work was recognized by the University with the award of a senior doctorate, ScD, in the late 1980s.