Athelstan (‘Athel’) Laurence Johnson Beckwith was an organic chemist whose research was concerned with free radicals, the reactive intermediates that have important roles in many organic chemical reactions. After studies and junior appointments at Australian universities, he completed his doctorate at Oxford University at a time when scepticism about the very existence of free radicals was being dispelled by a small group of experimentalists. Returning to Australia, where he occupied chairs at the University of Adelaide and the Australian National University, Beckwith used studies of organic structure and mechanisms, revealed by kinetic methods and electron spin resonance spectroscopy, to become a world leader in this field of chemistry. He was honoured by election to Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Science (1973) and the Royal Society of London (1989), by several awards from the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, and by membership of the Order of Australia (2004). His extensive travels, often accompanied by his wife, Kaye, and their children, to work in overseas chemical research laboratories and to give presentations at international meetings, helped him to secure his place in networks at the highest levels of his profession. Several of those who studied with him now hold important positions in Australian chemistry.
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