Dominic Tildesley received his BSc in Chemistry from Southampton University in 1973 and his DPhil from Oxford University in 1977. After postdoctoral positions at Pennsylvania State University, Cornell and Oxford, he joined the Chemistry Department at Southampton University in 1981. He was awarded the Chair of Theoretical Chemistry at Southampton in 1990.
In 1998 Dominic joined Unilever Research Port Sunlight as the Head of the Physical Sciences Group. In 2003 he became Chief Scientist for Unilever’s Home and Personal Care Division. He retired from Unilever in June 2012.
He moved to Switzerland in January 2013, to become Director of CECAM (Centre Européen de Calcul Atomique et Moléculaire) based in Lausanne in Switzerland. He is currently Professor Titulaire at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.
His research interests include the statistical mechanics of liquids, computer modelling of complex fluid, the simulation of adsorption and the application of high performance computing to industrial problems.
He is the author of The UK e-Infrastructure Strategy for Science and Business: a roadmap for the development and use of advanced computing, data and networks, and he co-chaired the UK E-infrastructure Leadership team with David Willetts, Minister of Science. He is currently President of the Royal Society of Chemistry and received a CBE for services to science, technology and business in 2014.
Modelling: the adventures of a young chemist
My deep interest in computing and software in particular began in the summer of 1973. As a young undergraduate chemist at the end of my second year at Southampton, I had the opportunity to work for the summer with IBM, learning to program in their Development Laboratory at Hursley. My summer holiday work was enthralling and convinced me to commit to a PhD, which would combine chemistry and this newfound appreciation of the computer. In those days we would trek from the Chemistry Department to the Computing Centre carrying a box of 500 punched cards. 20 minutes of run time overnight was the state-of-the-art and, depending on the size of queue, I could perform Monte Carlo simulations of 108 hard dumbbells as a model for liquid N2. Output was on line-printer paper, and punched cards; there was little or no computer graphics; and a small compilation error cost a full 24 hours.
40 years later I was asked to serve as the President of the Royal Society of Chemistry. In my inaugural speech, I suggested that, "the speed and development of computers is now so rapid, and the advances in modelling and informatics are so dramatic that in 15 years time, no chemist will be doing any experiment at the bench without trying to model it first". So despite the fact that chemistry is essentially and absolutely an experimental science, from this point forward, it would always be decorated an enhanced by modelling.
What had changed since the 70’s, when one solid gust of wind on the Banbury Road could have reduced the universe of molecules from 108 to 107 by the loss of a single card? What developments and changes over my career had inspired such an optimistic outburst from an ageing modeller?