Lieutenant Colonel Isidore Morris Heilbron

Biography of Lieutenant Colonel Isidore Morris Heilbron

Lieutenant Colonel Isidore (known as Ian) Morris Heilbron, later Sir Ian Morris, became one of the most outstanding chemists of his generation, as well as one of the most distinguished of Glasgow's soldiers to serve in the Great War. He was born on 6th November 1886 in Glasgow, the son of David Heilbron, a wine merchant, and his wife Fanny Jessel. He grew up in the city and attended Glasgow High School. After studying at Glasgow Royal College of Technology, he took a PhD at the University of Leipzig in 1909 and a DSc at the University of Glasgow in 1918 for his 'Contribution to the Study of Semi-carbazones' and other papers.

His distinguished war record in the Royal Army Service Corps is attested by his rank and many honours. Lieutenant Colonel Heilbron served with the overseas forces, notably as Assistant Director of Supplies at Salonika. He was three times Mentioned in Despatches (MID), and awarded the Distinguished Service Order, the French Medaille d'Honneur and the Greek Order of the Redeemer.

Before the war he had lectured at the Royal Technical College and after the war he returned as Professor of Organic Chemistry there from 1919-1920 before taking up the Chair at the University of Liverpool. Later, in 1933, he moved to Manchester and in 1935 he was appointed to the Chair of Organic Chemistry at Imperial College, London. He held the Chair there until 1949 when he reached retirement age and resigned to become the Director of the Brewing Industry Research Foundation, far from ready to retire.

His professional life was a glittering success. He became a world authority on the structure of squalene, and brought innovation to the investigation of vitamins A and D, as well as making important contributions to the chemistry of penicillin. He was also an inspiring teacher and mentor, helping to launch many of his students into productive research. He was a prolific author of scientific papers.

Many honours followed. He was Longstaff Medallist of the Chemical Society in 1938, Davy Medallist of the Royal Society in 1943 and Priestley Medallist of the American Chemistry Society. President of the Chemical Society of London (1948-1950), he also enjoyed membership or lectureships in the American Chemical Society, the French Chemical Society and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences. A mark of the esteem in which he was held abroad was the award of the American Medal of Freedom in 1947. Both Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities conferred Honorary LLDs on him, and he was knighted in 1946. He had made a significant contribution to academia and to public life, not least by his service in two World Wars, the First as a soldier, the Second as a scientific adviser to the government.

He had wide interests and as a young man in Glasgow, had enjoyed membership of Douglas Park golf club. Sir Ian Heilbron died after a short illness on 14th September 1959. His wife, Elda, pre-deceased him and he was survived by their two sons. He was remembered by his colleagues and students as a tempestuous, inspiring, brilliant man who 'had absolutely no patience with cloth-heads and would say so bluntly'.

Summary

Lieutenant Colonel Isidore Morris Heilbron
Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
Regiment: Royal Army Service Corps
Degree: DSc
Awards: Distinguished Service Order, French Medaille D'honneur, Greek Order Of The Redeemer, Mentioned In Despatches
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Sources

University of Glasgow Registry and General Council Records

Alan Cook, 'Heilbron, Sir Ian Morris (1886-1959)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography', (Oxford, 2004)

Obituary: The College Courant, Vol 12, No 23, p66 (Martinmas 1959)

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