Staff news

Norman Macleod (1926-2017)

We remember Dr Norman Macleod who was head of the Chemical Engineering department from 1975 to 1979.

Norman Macleod

Academic, inventor, motor-cyclist and all-round Renaissance man, Norman was as comfortable in the worlds of literature, philosophy and music as within his chosen field of chemical engineering.

His passion for science started as a very young child and led to a PhD in Chemistry from Imperial College. From 1947 to 1949, Norman taught trigonometry to pilots and navigators in the RAF, attaining the rank of Flying Officer, before becoming a lecturer at the University of Leicester.

It was during a period as a Harkness Fellow at MIT in Boston, that Norman met Marion Fairman, a Harkness Fellow at Harvard Medical School.  After returning to academic positions in Scotland, they married in 1959 and remained completely devoted to one another for the rest of their lives. Initially Marion was an academic microbiologist, but in later life, after a break to bring up their children and care for elderly relatives, she re-started her academic career with a second PhD in Medical Sociology in 1985. 

Despite an inability to remember names, Norman was an engaging and gifted teacher. At Edinburgh, his research involved the application of fluid mechanics and mass transfer principles to various problems, including the overheating of nuclear fuel elements and the flow of blood, which led to the development of a new artificial heart valve. Over the years he took advantage of several sabbaticals – at ICI Wilton, BNFL in Cumbia, and at Rice University and Harvey Mudd College in the US.  Norman retired in 1993, but continued to experiment in his workshop. He published what was to be his last paper in Physics Essays in 2012. Faraday's disk revisited: Some new experiments concerning unipolar electromagnetic induction.

Norman was very close to his maternal aunt, the writer Dame Rebecca West, who would ring him any time night or day to discuss technical or musical details in her novels.

Norman died on 1 July 2017, just 18 days after his wife Marion.  He is survived by his three children Graham, Fiona and Helen, two grandchildren, Andrew and Joseph, and his sister, Alison.

Related links

Obituaries for Norman Macleod in The Chemical Engineer magazine  and the Guardian:

Faraday’s Disk Revisited:

Norman had several family connections with the University of Edinburgh. The University Archives hold the papers of his father, Norman Macleod Senior, who was Principal Assistant Secretary in the Admiralty, and later director general of Greenwich Hospital.

His maternal aunt, Letitia Fairfield was a doctor, lawyer, suffragette and the first female Chief Medical Officer for London.  She trained as a doctor in the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women founded by Dr Sophia Jex-Blake. In WW1 she held several senior medical military posts and in WW2, she was appointed Senior Woman Medical Officer of the Armed Forces. 

Doctoral thesis: