Emeritus Professor Peter Young, former Professor and Head of the Department of Mining and Mineral Engineering in the University of Leeds died on 14 April 2011.
Born in Boston, Lincolnshire on 23 November 1923, he was educated at the town’s grammar school and saw active service during the Second World War in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, joining as an engineer cadet in 1942 and leaving in 1946 as a sub-lieutenant.
He then read Natural Sciences at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge and completed a PhD and a research Fellowship in extractive metallurgy. Whilst at Cambridge he was Elmore Research Fellow and Ablett Prizeman.
From 1954 Peter Young worked at the Imperial Smelting Corporation in Avonmouth as a development metallurgist for a year before joining Head Wrightson in Teesside as general manager in charge of research and development, later becoming its director of research, a post he fulfilled with conspicuous success.
In 1965, he was appointed Director of the Australian Mineral Development Laboratories (AMDEL) in Adelaide which had been established five years previously to serve the country’s mining and metallurgical industries. Under his guidance, AMDEL became a leading independent consulting organisation with a world-wide reputation.
Peter Young returned to the UK in 1968 when he was appointed by the University of Leeds as Professor and Head of the then Department of Applied Mineral Sciences.
He was to stay at the university until his retirement in 1990. He set about strengthening the mining activities of the department, as reflected in its change of name to Mining and Mineral Sciences (later Mining and Mineral Engineering).
A scientist of exceptional accomplishment with wide-ranging interests he initiated, fostered or reinvigorated research that encompassed hydrometallurgy, blast vibration monitoring, column flotation, process modelling and control, gamma-ray on-stream analysis of coal ash content, mining geostatistics, high grade sand extraction and treatment, , iron ore agglomeration, underground mine environment, and the production of activated carbon from coconut shells. His many industrial connections were invaluable in promoting these activities.
A galvanising and stimulating presence, Peter Young displayed a remarkable facility for participating with acute perception and command of detail in discussions on every facet of the department’s broad span of research activity.
He published extensively and was the holder of several patents. His enthusiasm extended to his undergraduate teaching, including a first-year computing course.
He also organised the surveying of newly-discovered Roman sewers beneath York and the re-construction of a Roman surveying device.
He instigated the development of new degree programmes, including Quarry Engineering, Minerals Surveying and Mineral Industry Environmental Engineering. It was in no small measure a tribute to the scientific strength and breadth he had engendered that when, at the end of the 1980s, it was decided at national level to combine his department with its Newcastle equivalent, it was also decided to locate the merged entity at Leeds.
He founded the Leeds Mineral Services consultancy based at the Department’s Kirkstall Laboratories which he had previously organised to obtain more space for mineral processing research. He also negotiated the use of the defunct Gillfield lead mine at Greenhow, North Yorkshire, for practical work in underground surveying and environmental monitoring.
Within the University, Peter Young served on the Senate, the Board of the Faculty of Engineering, the Committee on Relations with Industry and the Research Degrees Committee. He initiated many overseas connections and collaborations, including fruitful links with the universities in Guyana as well as Sri Lanka.
When he retired in 1990, the title of Emeritus Professor was conferred on Peter Young and the university published a senate resolution describing him as “a scientist in all of the best, and perhaps now old-fashioned, senses of the word”. In retirement, his enthusiasm and energy remained undiminished.
He carried out consultancy work for Longcliffe Quarries, undertook large-scale experiments on limestone calcination and composting of waste and relished the challenge of complex technical problems well into his eighties.
He was made a Fellow Commoner of St Catherine’s College, Cambridge in April 2006, and was asked by the Duke of Edinburgh, Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, to join a committee to advise on the development and direction of the University.
He also retained his lifetime affection for choral singing.
He had become a choirboy at a very young age; at St Catharine’s he had sung in the Chapel Choir and been President of the Music Society; and in Yorkshire was for many years a member of the Harrogate Chamber Singers and St Wilfred’s Church Choir.
In retirement he moved to the village of Parwich in Derbyshire, where he sang each week in the Wirksworth Church Choir.
His friend and colleague emeritus Professor Derek Geldart, of the University of Bradford, said that while ill in hospital, his choir came to sing at his bedside, which “cheered him up enormously”. Professor Young enjoyed his time at Parwich and became quite an enthusiastic villager – he ended up as editor of the parish magazine.
He was “kept active” by his two West Highland terriers, which had been given to him by his wife, Margaret, before her death.
Very tall, with a shock of white hair, Peter Young was described as a “cheerful, humorous and knowledgeable engineering professor who also enjoyed choral singing and could turn his hand to anything”.
Professor Geldart said, “He was a brilliant engineer and a very nice person”. Peter Young’s wife, Margaret, predeceased him in 1998.
The funeral service took place in Lincoln Cathedral on 12th May 2011.
Dr N.M.Rice, Harrogate, 8th June 2011
(With acknowledgment to previous obituaries by Mr J.R.Gair (Leeds University) and Sarah Cunnane of the THES)