George William Gray

Biography of George William Gray

George Grey's Matriculation Slip
George Grey's Matriculation Slip

George Gray was born the 4 September 1926 to John William Gray, a pharmacist, and his wife Jessie Colville, née Hunter. He received his early education at Denny Public School. From a young age Gray had expressed an interest in Chemistry, a passion likely inherited from his father who owned a pharmacy in Denny.

Gray first matriculated at the University aged 17 to study for a science degree, taking classes in Maths, Natural Philosophy and Chemistry. After graduating BSc in 1946 Gray took up a role as a temporary laboratory demonstrator at University College, Hull (now known as the University of Hull). In 1947 he was promoted to assistant lecturer which enabled him to register for a doctoral degree which he obtained whilst he worked. His thesis focused on the study of liquid crystals and was completed in 1953. In 1960 he was appointed senior lecturer in the department of chemistry and became a reader in 1964. By 1978 he became professor organic chemistry and C. F. Grant professor of chemistry from 1984.

Gray continued to research into liquid crystals after he completed his thesis and in 1962 he published ‘Molecular Structure and the Properties of Liquid Crystals’ , the first English textbook on the subject. Due to difficulties in securing funding for liquid crystal research, Gray then moved on to researching the chemistry of bacteria cell walls. However, there was a resurgence of interest in liquid crystals when it became apparent that they could be applied to flat display technologies. These would later become known as liquid crystal displays (LCDs). Gray’s research into stable liquid crystals led him to describe the 4-Cyano-4'-pentylbiphenyl molecule in a 1973 paper for Electronic Letter. This molecule went on to appear in watches, calculators, phones and laptops across the world. Gray later left the world of academia in 1990 to work in industry with Merck Ltd.

Throughout his career Gray was awarded numerous honours, including the Queen's award for technological advancement in 1979 and 1992, the Royal Society Leverhulme medal in 1987 and the prestigious Kyoto prize in 1995. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1983 and appointed CBE in 1991.


George William Gray
Born 4 September 1926.
Died 12 May 2013.
University Link: Graduate
GU Degree: BSc, 1946;
Occupation categories: chemists; professors; scientists
Record last updated: 19th Jul 2017

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  • Graduate

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