Emeritus Professor Ian Mills FRS has been appointed OBE in the New Year Honours 2015 for services to Chemistry and Metrology: the science of measurement.
Professor Mills enjoyed a great personal success in persuading his peers that the basic units of the world’s main system of measurement should be based exclusively on the fundamental constants of physics.
He was the lead author of two papers (in 2005 and 2007) which proposed that it was timely for the Système international d’unités (SI) to be liberated from the variability of the metal cylinder currently defining the kilogram: a material artefact whose mass, by its very nature, cannot be absolutely stable.
An immediate benefit of this advance is that the SI – used across science, technology and commerce – becomes more stable, precise and useful, and that the worlds of atomic and cosmic physics can be united.
The initial hostility to and disapproval of this vision swung round to approval and fulsome support, as evidenced at the ‘New SI’ meeting of the Royal Society in 2011. Later that year, the 24th General Conference on Weights and Measures unanimously supported his proposals without a single abstention – remarkable for a large, international meeting.
Professor Mills was a member of academic staff in Chemistry at the University of Reading from 1957 to 1995, and is now Emeritus Professor of Chemical Spectroscopy. His interest and vision in improving the SI stemmed from his leading-edge work in high-resolution spectroscopy, which was recognised in 1996 by his election to Fellowship of the Royal Society.
At the end of 2013, after 18 years in the role and at the age of 83, he retired as President of the Consultative Committee on Units of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, which works to improve the way in which scientists express and apply the results of their work. That event marked over 30 years of contribution to metrology; he had, since 1983, been a member and then chairman of the IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) Commission on Symbols, Units and Nomenclature in Physical Chemistry.
Professor Ian Mills said: “Most scientists collect a few medals over the course of their career – but the Queen’s medals have a particular significance.
“The product of my spectroscopy research is an improvement in our knowledge of the structure and properties of molecules, which lead to applications in many different fields. I have enjoyed all aspects of my work at the University of Reading, including teaching, giving public lectures and supervising 17 PhD postgraduate students.
“The aim of my metrology work is an improvement in the language of science – ensuring that scientists use the same precision and rigour when communicating with each other and with the public as they do when conducting their own research.
“It certainly gives me a warm and humbling feeling to be receiving an OBE.”
Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading, commented: “I am delighted that Professor Ian Mills was recognised in the New Year Honours and I congratulate him on behalf of everyone at the University of Reading.
“Ian’s distinction in the field of metrology roles is well deserved as he brought to it the rare combination of a wide and deep knowledge of science, strategic vision and eye for detail, openness and firmness, rigour, diplomacy and a sense of humour.
“He is universally respected, liked and supported and has been a distinguished ambassador for British science on the international stage.”