Professor was an internationally acknowledged pioneer in his field

John Joseph McGarvey, BSc PhD CSci CChem MRSC School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photo: Royal Irish Academy
John Joseph McGarvey, BSc PhD CSci CChem MRSC School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photo: Royal Irish Academy

Professor John Joseph McGarvey, who died suddenly at the age of 78, had a distinguished and pioneering academic career at Queen’s University and was known internationally for his research.

A native of Newtownstewart in County Tyrone, he was an early adopter of advanced photonics techniques that have now become commonplace laboratory tools, such as Raman spectroscopy and time resolved techniques that allow for the detailed study of photophysical properties of molecules.

Educated at the Christian Brothers’ School in Omagh, he attended Queen’s University, where he obtained his BSc in 1960 and was awarded his PhD in 1964 for his study of gas phase catalysis under Dr Bill McGrath.

He then became a postdoctoral research fellow at US Army Natick Laboratories in Massachusetts, returning to Northern Ireland, where he taught for a year in Dungannon before taking up an appointment at Queen’s in 1967 as an Assistant Lecturer in Chemistry.

He subsequently held a Chair in Physical Chemistry at QUB until retirement in October 2005.

Throughout his career, his research interests were in laser photochemistry and spectroscopy. Professor McGarvey was a pioneer in the study of fast chemical reactions and for many years was a prominent member of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Fast Reaction in Solution group which brought together the leading European researchers in small focussed discussion meetings that significantly advanced the area.

He was also an early proponent of Raman spectroscopy, using laser scattering to determine the structure of chemical compounds and materials.

This technique developed into a major branch of chemical analysis in which QUB has grown to be an internationally recognized centre.

Professor Steven Bell, Director of Research at the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Queens, said: “Prof essor McGarvey was an inspirational teacher and supervisor and the post-graduate students who he supervised have in turn gone on to run their own Raman research groups across the world.

“In the latter stages of his career, both before and after his formal retirement, Professor McGarvey became increasing interested in the development of Raman microscopy as a biomedical probe, working with colleagues in in the School of Experimental Medicine on new ways to use lasers to address problems in vision science, respiratory medicine and pathology.

“Throughout his career Professor McGarvey was valued member of the School of Chemistry and the University, who was generous with his time in helping others and someone whom his colleagues could always call on for advice, which he gave in his usual unassuming manner,” he added.

During his career, Professor McGarvey had published more than 150 refereed papers, as well as several reviews and book chapters.

He was an active member of the UK academic community, serving as a member of the Peer Review College of the UK Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), sitting on Review Panels for university degree programmes and national science facilities and acting as an external examiner in Physical Chemistry for Masters and Bachelors degree programmes at several universities in the UK and Ireland.

This involvement continued long past his retirement, and he remained very research active, holding an Emeritus Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust and working in both the School of Chemistry, where he was an Emeritus Professor and as a Visiting Research Professor in Centre for Experimental Medicine at QUB.

In 2012 he was elected as a Member of the Royal Irish Academy in recognition of the many achievements throughout a long and distinguished career.

In a tribute the School of Chemistry said: “Above all, John was widely recognised and appreciated by all who knew him as a real gentleman and a man with an extremely kind heart.”

Professor McGarvey, who lived at Dunmurray, is survived by his wife Mona, and their children Lorcan, Niall, Sinead, Aine, Orlaith, Niamh, Eilis and Ciaran and a wide family circle including 20 grandchildren.

His funeral service took place at St Anne’s Church, Finaghy, where the co-celebrants at the funeral Mass were Monsignor Ambrose Macaulay, a personal friend who was Roman Catholic Chaplain at Queen’s, 1964-1984, his successor as QUB chaplain Rev Joseph Gunn and Rev John Murray.

The esteem in which the late Professor McGarvey was held was testified to by the large attendance at the funeral service, which was followed by cremation at Roselawn.