Laureation address: Professor Michael L Klein FRS

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science
Laureation by Professor Michael Büehl, School of Chemistry

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Vice-Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, Professor Michael Klein.

Mike Klein, as he is known in his North American home now, is a giant in the field of computational chemistry. This discipline strives to predict the outcome of chemical reactions without performing any experiments, just using a computer to model the interactions between atoms and molecules that make up macroscopic matter. The ultimate vision of the field is the virtual laboratory, where compounds and materials with bespoke properties can be designed before they are synthesised in the real laboratories.

Mike Klein has advanced this field tremendously by devising methods that allow us to model the time-evolution of chemical systems under realistic conditions. This enables us now to obtain microscopic insights into elementary reactions and processes, enabling far-reaching applications across physics, chemistry and biochemistry.

After his graduation from the University of Bristol in 1964, Mike Klein rose through the ranks at a variety of places in Canada and the US. He is now Professor of Science and Dean of the College of Science and Technology at Temple University in Philadelphia, a college that he himself has helped to shape into its current form and international standing.

His impact in science and academia is seminal in many ways. Not only has he developed these modelling tools that are now used in countless computational chemistry labs around the world, he is also applying these tools to hot topics in areas ranging from hard materials such as nanocatalysts via soft matter inspired by biology to the very structure and function of cell membranes.

The work of Mike Klein and the many scholars that have been trained in his group is truly interdisciplinary; it serves to bridge boundaries within science, rather than reinforcing them. As a result, he is one of the most cited – and respected – chemists of our time.

Vice-Chancellor, in recognition of his major contribution to computational chemistry and to scientific computing, I invite you to confer the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, on Professor Michael Klein.

Professor Michael Klein’s response

Good morning everybody. Graduates, congratulations on this special day. The good news is that you will be in great demand. A very small percentage of college graduates have true science credentials.

When I was your age, nuclear magnetic resonance and the laser had only just been discovered and invented. And the first satellite had just gone into orbit. Thus, we had no cell phones, no internet – imagine no email. The idea of a selfie, a tweet and FaceTime emerged only in the last decade. Now we navigate from place to place, find friends and more using GPS. We use lasers to transmit data on the internet through fibre optic cables. We use it for eye surgery and much, much more. We use nuclear magnetic resonance to image your brain, not only to look for damage and disease, but also to see your reaction to psychological and physiological impulses. Similarly to me, in your lifetime, you will witness unimaginable discoveries and inventions.

Let me close on a serious note. The population of planet earth has passed seven billion – three times larger when I was your age. Eleven billion is suspected to be the maximum sustainable, and more and more people are moving to cities. In the next decade, immense challenges will be needed to address and overcome, in urban health, water, energy and food supply and much more. Sustaining planet earth on its journey through the evolving universe demands scientific discovery and technological invention.

So graduates, go forth – participate, innovate with an entrepreneurial spirit. The future of planet earth and our society as we know it needs your input and contributions, so congratulations.