Nick Besley obituary

·2 min read

My friend and close colleague of 24 years, Nick Besley, who has died aged 48 after a cycling accident, was a professor of theoretical chemistry and a rising star in British chemistry. He made major advances to the understanding of how light interacts with different types of molecules, providing a crucial link between theory and experiment.

Nick was born in Wickford, Essex, to Alan Besley, a draughtsman, and Dee (nee Wells), a bank employee. He attended local schools: Thundersley county junior school, the Deanes school and South East Essex sixth form college. Nick was the first in his family to go to university. He was also an accomplished triathlete.

In 1994 Nick graduated from the University of Sussex with a BSc in chemical physics. He then undertook a PhD with Professor Peter Knowles and relocated with him to the University of Birmingham. From there, in 1997 Nick joined the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, as a research associate in my group, which is where I met him and first worked with him. We were using quantum chemistry to study how light interacts with proteins.

In 1999 Nick moved to the University of Nottingham, developing new methods to calculate otherwise inaccessible properties of molecules using the quantum chemistry software Q-Chem. Nick became a longstanding contributor to Q-Chem, which is now used by thousands of researchers worldwide, including Nick’s algorithms for rapid calculations of large chemical systems. By coincidence I had moved to Nottingham at the same time.

Awarded a prestigious advanced research fellowship from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council in 2002, Nick flourished, studying diverse molecular systems. He was promoted to professor in 2018. Nick enjoyed many scientific collaborations, investigating problems from how to store carbon dioxide to the identification of molecules in outer space.

Nick was quiet, unassuming and a true scholar. It was my pleasure to watch him blossom as a highly appreciated teacher and an outstanding researcher. He was also loyal and trusting as a friend and colleague.

He enjoyed swimming, cycling and running. His other main interest was playing the guitar.

In 2001, he met Elena Bichoutskaia at the University of Nottingham; they married in 2007. Elena became a scientific colleague, collaborating with Nick, and is now professor of theoretical and computational chemistry.

Nick is survived by Elena, their daughter, Emily, his parents and a brother, Adam.

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