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Ewart Albert Vincent 1919-2012

Distinguished mineralogist, geochemist and influential academic manager

VincentProfessor E A Vincent, known always as ‘David’, died on 24 December 2012. His interest in science, and particularly chemistry, may have been first awakened by his aunt, a bacteriologist at the Royal National Institute of Dairying in Reading. From Reading School he went to the University of Reading, where one of his teachers was L R Wager. Graduating in 1940, Vincent was drafted into wartime research on the analysis and testing of explosives in Scotland - where he also met his future wife, Myrtle, a botanist.

After the War Vincent entered Durham University, where Wager had succeeded Arthur Holmes as Professor, and worked on the Tertiary dyke rocks of East Greenland for his PhD. Wager became Professor of Geology at Oxford in 1950 and Vincent joined that department one year later as University Demonstrator with responsibility for petrology, teaching crystal structure and setting up a new silicate analysis laboratory.

He continually modernised the Oxford department’s analytical capabilities, adding photometric and spectro-photometric methods to precise gravimetric determinations of whole rock and mineral compositions. He also introduced neutron activation techniques (developed by A A Smales’ Analytical Chemistry Group at AERE Harwell) for minor and trace-elements.

The sulphides and opaque oxides in Skaergaard rocks provided ideal material for analysis using these techniques. Vincent, having mastered reflected light ore microscopy after a period in P Ramdohr’s laboratory in Heidelberg (where his fluent German eased the way), worked with Smales and a succession of Oxford DPhil and Part Two Chemistry undergraduates in fundamentally revising and extending the list of rare element geochemical data. This became a standard of comparison for other igneous rock sequences and was a significant contribution to our understanding of the important role played by immiscible sulphide melts in magmatic processes. It is fitting that the PdPt arsenide ‘vincentite’ is named for him.

In 1956 Vincent was elected to the Readership in Mineralogy at Oxford, becoming responsible for administering the Sub-Department of Mineralogy in the (then) Department of Geology and Mineralogy. His administrative duties increased relentlessly with time; first, when he left Oxford to become Professor of Geology (at Manchester, 1962) and still further on his return to the Chair in Oxford (1967). Although continuing to work with his research students, in the course of five happy years at Manchester he had been able to recruit important new staff and to commence building a large new extension to the department.

During his subsequent 22 years as Professor at Oxford he was able to do more – notably, overseeing the move to the Faculty of Physical Sciences; the arrival and rapid expansion of geophysics; the incorporation of Surveying and Geodesy into the re-named Department of Earth Sciences; the establishment of diploma and MSc courses; the continuation of age and isotope research, and much more. Somehow he also found time to be President of the Mineralogical Society and organise a very successful Symposium of the IAVCEI. At the end of his tenure the Oxford Department may be said to have changed out of all recognition.

David Vincent was a dedicated scientist and a cultured man. He had a deep love and knowledge of classical music, a gift for photography (be it with a reflected light microscope or a Twin-lens Rolleiflex and SLR Leica). He was a linguist, at ease in French, Italian and especially German - enabling him to translate A Rittman’s classic Vulkane und ihr Tatigkeit into, arguably, better English. He was a gentle, courteous and kind character who never spared himself in fostering the well-being and careers of others.

By David Bell