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Tributes paid to Dr Ronald Midgley Nedderman 1935-2021

Tributes have been paid to Dr Ronald Midgley Nedderman, 1935-2021. 

Ron Nedderman, Fellow of Trinity College since 1981.

An aficionado of Scottish country dancing, Dr Ron Nedderman continued to host summer dances in his well-tended Cambridge garden long after his wife, Susan, a very accomplished dancer, had passed away and until two years before his death on 18 May 2021. So recalls Dr Patrick Barrie, Senior University Lecturer and colleague of Dr Nedderman at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology.

Ron Nedderman was born in 1935 and brought up on the Lancashire/Yorkshire borders. He attended Leighton Park School and was influenced by its Quakerism.

At Cambridge dancing was just one of Dr Nedderman’s pastimes; he was Senior Treasurer of the Cambridge University Strathspey & Reel Club and, with his wife, a leading light in the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, ran the local chapter, which was open to members of the University and the public alike.

This alongside ornithology, botany and gardening – ‘lucky students occasionally leaving Supervisions with both a greater understanding of Chemical Engineering and bag full of freshly grown vegetables’, remembers Trinity Fellow, Dr Andy Sederman.

From a First in Engineering at St John’s College, Ron Nedderman went on to a PhD at the Department of Chemical Engineering, became a University Lecturer after a spell in industry, and was elected a Fellow of Darwin in 1964 and a Fellow of Trinity in 1981.

He was respected for his teaching by students, and by academics for his comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of the Tripos. His commitment to teaching was manifest at the Department, the various Colleges for which he was external Director of Studies, and at Trinity, where he supervised generations of students.

Dr Sederman, Reader in Magnetic Resonance in Engineering, said:

He was probably best known for his work as an educationalist in the Department where he was able to teach and supervise every topic in the undergraduate Tripos – and he was an excellent Supervisor, managing to pose questions in such a way that made the students consider the key points that needed to be understood without denting their confidence.

Emeritus Professor Allan Hayhurst recalls Dr Nedderman’s pivotal role at the Department.

Ron was passionate about teaching his subject. His pupils realised their good luck in having him as their Supervisor. The same was true of new members of staff in the Department, who depended on Ron for their education in all aspects of Chemical Engineering. He adored his work and his enthusiasm was infectious.

Dr Nedderman kept a close eye on what was taught at the Department and how it was examined. ‘He was interested in examining, was brilliant at it and was constantly thinking up new questions,’ said Professor Hayhurst. ‘His ability to write testing examination questions without error or ambiguity is legendary,’ recalls Dr Sederman.

Professor Roland Clift, a Fellow of Trinity 1978-1981, and now Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia, remembers Dr Nedderman as his Supervisor in the 1960s and then as a colleague in the Department, where it was commonplace for staff to attend each other’s lectures.

I attended Ron’s lecture on granular materials and the method of characteristics – two subjects that can be notoriously perplexing. His ability to bring clarity to complex topics again made these lectures something to look forward to. It took a lot of persuasion, from many people, for him to turn his clear grasp of granular materials into a book, although that finally happened in 2005.

Dr Nedderman wrote four textbooks and his publication on fluid mechanics and transport processes remains on the reading list today, while his research into granular materials is regularly cited.

His teaching informed his research achievements, according to Head of the School of Technology at Cambridge, Professor John Dennis.

His research on two-phase flow, and later in granular statics and dynamics, was seminal and influenced profoundly the development of those important fields in process engineering. His significant advances resulted both from his intellectual insight and from his familiarity with the fundamental principles of engineering, emanating from his great interest in teaching.

Rather than attend academic conferences himself, Dr Nedderman preferred to send his research students. Trinity Fellow, Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, Executive Chair of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, recalls one conference where every speaker in a session referred to his work. ‘Ron was a great teacher and an excellent researcher. He played a very important role in creating the Department we have today.’

Perhaps he was less motivated by the idea of promotion or research accolades than teaching and supporting others. As Professor Hayhurst says:

He was always very modest, extremely generous with his time and knowledge, as well as being an acute observer of all going on around him.

All he seemed to need were bags of sand or mustard seeds, a camera, a stop-clock and a hopper. Even so, he was a dominant figure, when it came to particle mechanics, where he displayed considerable intellectual insight and a firm grasp of the fundamentals.

Dr Nedderman is survived by his children, Jenny and Angus.

Read the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology obituary of Dr Nedderman. 

Dr Nedderman with his stereoscopic photographic equipment in 1959. Photo: Jim Wilkes, Department of Chemical Engineering.

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