Professor Tony Ryan was a student at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) where awarded a BSc in Polymer Science & Technology (Chemistry) in 1983 and a PhD in 1988. From 1985 to 1988 he was a Lecturer in Polymer Science & Technology at UMIST. He held a NATO Research Fellowship at the University of Minnesota in 1988 and 1989. In 1990 he returned to UMIST to be a Lecturer in Polymer Science & Technology in the Materials Science Department and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1994 and Reader in 1995. From 1993 to 1997 he was seconded half-time to the Synchrotron Radiation Source at Daresbury. In 1997 he moved to Sheffield to be The Professor of Physical Chemistry. From 1999-2004 he was the Head of the Department of Chemistry, from 2000-2008 Director of the Polymer Centre 2000-2008, and in the period 2002-2008 The ICI Professor of Physical Chemistry. From 2008-2016 he was the Pro Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Science at the University of Sheffield.
The common theme in Tony’s research is phase transitions in polymers. Most recently, using the knowledge of the thermodynamics and kinetics of phase behaviour in polymer blends and block copolymers to develop new processing methods based on self-assembly. This has led to the development of the new field of Soft Nanotechnology where synthetic and natural macromolecules are harnessed in a way that makes use of their intrinsic flexibility and susceptibility to Brownian motion to generate work from changes on molecular conformation. Developments in polymers responsive to their environment have lead to research into molecular machines, specifically the fabrication of molecular valves and motors.
Polymer synthesis is necessary in order to have well defined systems to study. The dynamics of phase behaviour are studied by calorimetry, spectroscopy, rheology, microscopy and light, X-ray or neutron scattering. A full suite of microstructural analysis (atomic force, optical and electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction and mechanical testing) is used to confirm the dynamic experiments and where appropriate computer modelling is also used.
Tony’s main contribution to the field has been the development and application of the techniques of time-resolved structural tools to polymers. This work was the subject of prizes in 1990 by the Plastics and Rubber Institute, in 1992, 1999 and 2003 from the Royal Society of Chemistry and in 1999 from the Polymer Processing Society.
Tony has been active in promulgating the public understanding of science since his graduate student days. This culminated in his appointment as the Royal Institution Christmas Lecturer for 2002 with the theme was the science and technology of everyday things. The lectures were seen on Channel 4 by 4.5 million viewers and have also been broadcast in Europe, Japan and Korea. Tony was also the 1st EPSRC Senior Media Fellow which allow him to combine world-class research and popular understanding of the impact of science and technology on society. Tony was awarded an OBE in 2005 for “services to science”.
- The Plastics and Rubber Institute Silver Medal (1990)
- The Akzo Chemical Award (1990)
- Royal Society of Chemistry Thermal Methods Group Award (1992)
- The Morand Lambla Award of the Polymer Processing Society (1999)
- The Beilby Medal and Prize of the Royal Society of Chemistry (1999)
- Royal Society of Chemistry Environmentally Friendly Polymers Award (2003)
- Officer of the British Empire, OBE, for “services to science” (2006)
- Ellison-Cliffe Medal & Lecture, Royal Medical Society (2007)
- Maitland Medal & Lecture, Institute of Structural Engineers (2008)
- Gold Medal of the Society of Dyers and Colourists (2008)
- MacroGroup UK Medal, RSC/SCI/IoP (2009)
- RSC Materials Division Schools Lecturer (2011)