Scott, Francis Leslie (‘Les’) (1928–2008), chemist, was born on 3 July 1928 in Cork, the son of Cyril Scott, supervisor in a shoe factory, and his wife Elizabeth (née Kenny), who worked in Thompson’s bakery shop in Cork. After attending North Monastery school in Cork, he entered UCC in 1945 as an undergraduate, having gained first place in Ireland in both mathematics and chemistry in his leaving certificate. He also obtained three university entrance scholarships to UCC (Cork City Council, NUI and Keliher). Graduating top of his chemistry class at UCC in 1948, he completed an M.Sc. (on oxyiminotriazines) and Ph.D. with Professor Joseph Reilly (qv) in 1952. During the period 1949–53, he also co-supervised with Reilly up to twenty-five M.Sc. and Ph.D. students. One of these was Margaret Kennedy, whom he subsequently married. While at UCC he published some twenty-eight internationally refereed papers on organonitrogen chemistry, including several in the most prestigious international journals such as Nature, the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the Journal of Organic Chemistry and Angewante Chemie.
Having won the prestigious and highly competitive NUI travelling studentship in chemistry, he moved in 1953 to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) to continue research with the renowned Saul Winstein. In 1955 he was appointed to a post as lecturer in organic chemistry at UCLA and taught widely while continuing his research. In 1958, based in the US, he obtained his higher doctorate, D.Sc., from the NUI while still in his twenties, probably the youngest NUI graduate ever to do so. A year earlier he had moved from UCLA into industry, working in the research division of Pennwalt Corporation on rocket propellants and organic polymers. While this was often secret work, it helped to enliven his lectures when he subsequently returned to UCC.
In 1960 he succeeded Joseph Reilly as professor of chemistry at UCC. His time in Cork was characterised by extraordinary energy and innovation, leading to significant expansion in student numbers, facilities and research publications. In research, his interests were wide but had at the centre the search for a better understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of chemical processes. These include the study of high nitrogen compounds, heterocycles and highly reactive organophosphorus species. His publications during his period as professor of chemistry in UCC amounted to about twelve per year and also covered areas such as neighbouring group effects, reactive intermediates, 1,3-dipoles, sulfamic acids and halogenation. In 1963 he was elected MRIA.
Following a vigorous campaign, he became a member of the governing body of UCC (1967–73) and was also active in the UCC Graduates Association. During this time, among the key physical developments which he helped to fund, design and stock with modern instrumentation, was the new science building (opened and equipped in 1970). This was accompanied by the appointment of many staff, such as the inaugural professors of physical (Joe Cunningham) and inorganic (Brian Hathaway) chemistry. Technical and administrative staff also underwent a three-fold increase.
Scott was an inspirational teacher both in his own area of organic chemistry and the wider scientific world, and for many this was the quality for which he was most renowned. This led to an exponential increase in student numbers studying science at UCC. The college’s science degree was extended to four years on his appointment in 1960 and many of his students went on to become academics: Professor Richard Butler (head of chemistry at UCG) and Professor Frank Hegarty (head of chemistry and vice-president for research at UCD) were in his first graduating class in 1964.
The expansion of the pharmaceutical industry in Cork and elsewhere in Ireland, which began in the 1970s, drew on the wide range of people trained in the undergraduate programmes at UCC and its research laboratories. Many of Scott’s students were also critical to the staffing of the regional technical colleges in Ireland which were formed at this time. Very few (about ten per cent) left Ireland on a permanent basis, confirming Scott’s vision for attracting so many good students and giving them the initial training to keep them highly motivated.
Another of his innovations was the summer undergraduate research programme where the top undergraduates were given a funded period (by UCC) to assist in the research laboratories. Scott also introduced two research projects into the final undergraduate year and encouraged these students to make oral presentations on their work. At the annual Irish Research Colloquium, he was a noticeable figure (and sometimes regarded as intimidating), sitting in the front row and asking searching questions. These were very lively events indeed, and sometimes his own students from UCC were concerned about the reciprocal questions which might then be put to them by academics from other colleges!
On the international scene, apart from his many publications (over 100 during his period as professor of chemistry at UCC), one of his main impacts arose from a series of major conferences run in and around Cork. The first, in July 1964, was on ‘organic reaction mechanisms’, and was sponsored by the Chemical Society based in London. It was the first major conference on this topic in Europe and attracted more than 600 attendees from academia and industry over six very full days. All of the internationally renowned practitioners in the field attended and the social side was equally memorable, with major events in City Hall, trips down the harbour and a day spent on the Ring of Kerry. Subsequent conferences (on inorganic reaction mechanisms, sulphur chemistry, and structure and mechanism in nitrogen chemistry) reflected his own scientific interests and were run on the Gordon conference and EUCHEM models. The series of conferences ensured that UCC chemistry became very well known internationally and proved to be a major advantage when doctoral graduates subsequently looked for postdoctoral positions at the best international universities.
During this period he lived in a house, Mount Patrick, on spacious grounds in Glanmire, just outside Cork City. He became involved in a major controversy when a lead and zinc processing plant was proposed on Little Island in the same general area. This was to process ore coming from the recently discovered Tara Mines in Co. Meath. Scott co-founded the ‘Smelter study group’ which was successful in highlighting the downsides of the proposal, which was subsequently dropped.
After the death of his wife in 1973, Scott went back to UCLA initially on sabbatical to work with Donald Cram (later to be awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry). Having resigned his professorship in UCC in September 1973, he was again recruited by Pennwalt Corporation where he was appointed a director of pharmaceutical research in Rochester, New York, and subsequently formed his own consulting company. While living in Rochester, he married Paula Clifford (also originally from Cork). Returning to Cork for a brief period when he was ill, he died there on 14 January 2008 and was buried in St Finbarr’s cemetery. He was survived by his daughters Fiona and Anne and his son Spencer.