Professor Paul Barnes has a long and distinguished history at Birkbeck, both in academia and administration. Having completed a BSc in Physics in 1963, he gained a PhD in Physics and the Chemistry of Solids at Cambridge in 1967. Four years later he became a lecturer in Crystallography at Birkbeck, and was appointed to a personal chair in Applied Crystallography at London University in 1994.
‘I call myself an applied crystallographer, which means almost anything,’ he says.
‘Everyone lately has been talking about the Cern Hadron collider, a huge particle accelerator built to re-enact the conditions of the Big Bang. My research uses a similar machine called a “synchrotron”, which generates the most powerful X-rays in the world. These powerful beams penetrate materials and reveal how they are formed and how they work.
‘My interests are X-ray and neutron diffraction (especially fast in-situ powder diffraction with synchrotron/neutron sources), computer simulation and a bit of electron microscopy; all applied to materials like zeolites, ceramics, cements, hydrates – particularly those with an industrial application. Basically if it diffracts, we'll try to look at it; if it doesn’t diffract, we might even still look at it.’
‘Our mission is to understand the structure and kinetics of functional materials and how they behave. In our time we have had occasion to study bulk rock analysis, drug polymorphism, rubber-based materials and micro-mechanical structures. We are concerned with the general application of all applied crystallography techniques to modern materials.’
On the administrative side, Paul served as a Governor of the College and as College Dean.
The Governors represent the last point in the College’s decision-making process. Paul says he encountered a wide range of issues in this role, ‘from everyday affairs, such as smoking areas in College, to whether a person or department would remain in the College. I always felt that I had to be sure I had voiced any relevant concerns and voted, if there was a vote, in the best interests of everyone.’
As College Dean, he had two functions: to oversee the award of various College funds and scholarships to needy students; and to help resolve disputes and advise staff and students in difficulty.
‘I gained particular pleasure whenever I discovered evidence to show that a worthy student had been enabled to continue in study as a result of financial aid,’ he says.
‘I’ve been most proud of staying sane enough to carry out leading research while keeping students’ interests at heart. Birkbeck students achieve the highest level of scholarship while, incredibly, maintaining their daily work and commitments.’
Paul is planning an active and productive retirement:
‘I intend to carry on with my research at Birkbeck and UCL, but my reduced teaching and administrative load means that I can indulge more in some of my hobbies, which include my interests in music.’