Elected F.R.S. 1955
Frederick Tompkins was a physical chemist of great distinction whose contributions to the development of two research fields, surface science and solid state reactions, were matched by his long service as Secretary and Editor of the Faraday Society. Throughout his career he had the knack of attracting bright young students into his research group and, through a rigorous apprenticeship, turning them out as scientists who went on to occupy senior academic positions around the world. Thus his influence extended well beyond his own immediate contributions.
Tompkins's early studies of adsorption (the taking–up of gases by surfaces) on solid surfaces were on polar solids but, although this was always maintained as an interest, perhaps his best–known contributions to adsorption studies were on metal surfaces. Work initiated in the 1950s, based on metal films deposited under stringent conditions and covering a range of different physical techniques, established his reputation firmly in the field of chemisorption on metals. Students and postdoctoral workers of his continued the development of this field.
Tompkins was born in Yeovil, Somerset, in 1910, and was pleased to record that his scientific attainment at Yeovil Grammar School, which won him a County Scholarship to Bristol University, was matched by his talent as an essayist and as a pianist. As an undergraduate he was greatly influenced by the teaching of William Garner (FRS 1937) and of John (later Sir John) Lennard–Jones (FRS 1933), and at the age of 20 years he graduated with first–class honours in chemistry and theoretical physics. He completed his PhD at Bristol with Garner, who first introduced him to both surface and solid state chemistry.