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Obituary: Dr Anthony N Barrett

Birkbeck alumnus

Dr Rex Palmer, Emeritus Reader in Structural Crystallography at Birkbeck remembers his friend and colleague:

'Tony came to Birkbeck in October 1964 and registered as a PhD student in the Department of Crystallography with Dr C H Carlisle his official supervisor. He had just completed a BSc degree in Mathematics at Chelsea College, University of London (now amalgamated with Kings’ College). His reason for taking up Crystallography was to enable the application of mathematical methods in the analysis of molecular structures.

'Against this background Tony was assigned to work with me on the crystal structure of pyridoxal phosphate oxime using the newly devised highly mathematically formulated Direct Phasing Methods. The crystals were triclinic, perhaps the most difficult to work with for a novice, and Tony set about making the necessary measurements and in the evenings  learning more about the subject by attending the MSc Crystallography lectures. He eventually succeeded in solving the structure, the first by direct methods in the department, and for this gained his PhD in 1968 with future Nobel Prize winner Sir Aaron Klug as external examiner, with whom some years later he later published a joint paper.

'Tony’s first paper (Barrett AN and Palmer RA, Acta Crystallogr 3428 B25:688) appeared in 1969. Tony undertook his first post doctoral appointment at MIT Boston and published a paper in 1971 with M Zwick on the use of the Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) to improve the phases associated with protein crystal structures. A similar paper appeared in 1972 describing a method for improving the imaging of tobacco mosaic virus in collaboration with Ken Holmes. It is very likely that Tony’s work on the FFT alerted the crystallographic community to this method, which is still in general use, and cuts down the time for calculation of Fourier maps by a significant factor.

'Tony subsequently held posts at the Max Planck Institute with Professor Ken Holmes (also a PhD from), The Royal College of Art, and NIMR Mill Hill, maintaining his emphasis on the application of mathematical methods on molecular structures and published several papers with Sir Arnold Burgen who was the Institute Director at that time. He joined Brunel University in 1986 as a Lecturer in Computer Science and Research Fellow where he continued to work on image enhancing techniques and became an Honorary Fellow in 2006 following his retirement. The technique of image enhancement which Tony worked on for so long has now become highly sophisticated and enjoys a multitude of everyday applications. It is safe to say that Tony made significant contributions to this important area of science.

'In his personal life Tony was an accomplished professional jazz trumpeter and played with Dudley Moore in his early career. Of late Tony took to arranging classic jazz pieces for the electronic keyboard and made several CD recordings which make very good listening. Tony also enjoyed shooting, squash and badminton and battled to conquer golf for a number of years, a mutual battle which gave us both a lot of pleasure.

'Sadly Tony became ill a few months ago and had a major operation in August from which he did not recover. He knew that Sandra was keeping watch over him daily and willing him to pull through. He died peacefully on the morning of Sunday 7 October 2012.'