Readers celebrate the life of John Fossey

John Fossey

John Fossey has died aged 44.

Fossey read chemistry at Cardiff University, graduating in 2000, followed by a PhD from Queen Mary University of London with Christopher Richards in 2004. Winning a postdoctoral fellowship from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), he worked with Shu Kobayashi at the University of Tokyo, during which time he met his wife-to-be Rumi, before returning to the UK in 2005 to take up a position at the University of Bath. In 2008 Fossey secured a permanent position as an independent group leader at the University of Birmingham, where he rose through the ranks from lecturer to become a professor of synthetic chemistry in 2018.

A former industry fellow of the Royal Society, where he collaborated with Syngenta, Fossey combined creativity and rigour with an inquisitive nature and a can-do attitude that allowed him to identify new opportunities and links between areas. He led diverse research projects spanning areas from organic and organometallic catalysis and synthesis to the development of new chemical detection methodologies, in particular carbohydrate sensors to improve the treatment of diabetes and for cancer diagnostics, and new therapeutic approaches for the treatment of tuberculosis and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

His contributions to research are recorded in over 120 publications and patents. He was awarded the Daiwa Adrian Prize in 2013 with Seiji Shinkai, Tony James, Steven Bull, Kazuo Sakurai, and Yuji Kubo for research into chemonostics and the inaugural Czarnik Emerging Investigator Award in 2016 for work on catalysis and sensing. In 2018 he was awarded a Cancer Research UK Pioneer Award to support his research in establishing early detection potential from single molecule chemosensors. He was also the principal investigator on a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation-funded project focused on translating boronic acid-mediated recognition to smart drug delivery.

Following his time in Japan, John demonstrated a strong commitment to internationalisation, initiating and enhancing institutional interactions for undergraduate courses, research collaborations and wider networks across east Asia in particular. He retained close links to research in Japan and with the JSPS, being awarded a Bridge Fellowship in 2010 and chairing the JSPS Alumni Executive Committee. The ongoing CAtalysis and SEnsing (Case) Network he established with Tony James and Steven Bull has brought together international scientists, with meetings in the UK, Ireland, the US and China seeding productive partnerships.

An inspirational educator, Fossey wanted to share his love of chirality and stereoselective synthesis with future generations of chemists. He was enthusiastic in giving opportunities to early-career scientists to do research, mentoring many undergraduate, postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers and remaining a proactive cheerleader for them after they left his group.

Fossey was a great advocate for students, colleagues and collaborators. His interactions, both in Birmingham and beyond, demonstrated a deep-seated commitment to fairness and inclusivity. He leaves a legacy of ambitious and creative science, supportive and inclusive leadership, and of being a hugely positive influence. In addition to his many contributions and leadership in research, education and the wider community, his friends and colleagues will remember him for the generosity, ideas, perceptive insights and infectious enthusiasm that he brought to all his interactions.

John is survived by his wife, Rumi and their three children, Karen, Toby and Edwin.

Paul Davies
University of Birmingham, UK

War in Ukraine

I was shocked by your publication of a letter arguing in essence that Russian scientists be somehow exempted from the sanctions imposed by western governments. Your correspondents refer to the ‘Russian–Ukrainian conflict’, thereby implying it to be a bilateral cross-border conflict rather than, as we all know, an unprovoked unilateral attack on a peaceful nation. They refer to McCarthyism, stating that scientists were punished for not fighting communism energetically enough. This is untrue. Senator McCarthy and the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee pursued those they believed (often falsely) to be communists or sympathisers. They had no power to punish those who were not fighting communism energetically enough, nor did they do so.

We may be scientists, but we are also citizens and as such, like it or not, we have to accept the consequences of our government’s policies. Your correspondents are pleading for a free pass. Tens of millions of Russians could make the same argument. When a government declares war, there are consequences for all its citizens.

Anselm Kuhn MRSC
Via email

Junk bonds

I was deeply concerned when reading the article entitled ‘Unusual hydrogen bonds found in proteins help them bind their targets’.

With very few notable exceptions, such as the classic hydrogen bond and sometimes C–H···O interactions, short distances between single atoms in condensed media are almost invariably the (often destabilising) byproduct of stronger forces that act elsewhere. Postulating a local interaction or a bond without solid quantum chemical support mistakes geometry for physics. The uncritical search for short contacts is one of the disgraces of uncritical work on large databases, having produced a jungle of unwarranted bond denominations. The literature unfortunately abounds with such poor science; in this particular case one just wonders what is meant by showing a tetravalent carbon atom with only one covalent bond.

A Gavezzotti FRSC
University of Milan, Italy


In the article on synthetic fuels (Chemistry World, July 2022, p28) we incorrectly wrote that LanzaTech use engineered microbes to produce ethanol; they are naturally occurring.

The correct spelling of the name of the founder of The Steam Room is Luke Steller (Chemistry World, July 2022, p15).

Finally, we apologise for the error that cut off the end of last month’s Classic Kit (Chemistry World, July 2022, p62). The full article can be read at