Dr Peter Highton

Peter Highton
Peter Highton

A year ago this weekend my father died. Peter worked for pretty much his whole career at University of Edinburgh, at Kings Buildings, in the Darwin Building. He was a molecular biologist, although at Oxford he had studied Physics. I know that his time at Oxford (Wadham) was very happy and he was delighted when I chose to spend some of my career there.

My memories of being a child visiting his lab include the smell of the foyer, the enormous slices of wood from Forestry, playing with plastic molecule models and spinning around on the office chairs.

Peter was the expert in using Edinburgh’s electron microscope and he took pictures of tiny, tiny things*. The microscope was a huge heavy piece of kit which needed to be absolutely still and absolutely flat in order to work properly. In their wisdom Edinburgh colleagues decided to put it on the top floor of the tallest tower which was known to sway in the wind.

Using his knowledge of physics Peter built a sling in which the microscope could sit, making it possible to use. He must have saved the University a fair bit of money because this thing was not cheap.

I am not quite sure what my father’s research was, I suspect it was research into microscopy. I’ ve found a few journal articles and I remember stories of  Anne Mclaren  and Martin Pollock so his work must have been linked to early genetics. When I was a teenager at school he arranged for me to have my first summer job making fruit -fly food in Mary Bownes’ lab**.

As the executor of his estate I now have a collection of these early electron-micrograph images. If I get time I will digitise them and add them to Wikimedia in the hope they will be useful to someone.

I know that Peter earned royalties from them during his career, but I can find no evidence of an ongoing relationship with an image agency, so it is time for them to become OER.   I’d love to hear from anyone who might be able to identify which of the images are of more interest than others.

Fun update to this blog post: Clare (Project Archivist, cataloguing the papers of Sir Kenneth and Lady Noreen Murray )*** has found a picture of Peter in this line drawing by Edith Simon, which has been digitised (he’s top row, fourth from the right, in case you can’t distinguish him from the other beardy scientists).

 

From my childhood. No rights reserved by me.
From my childhood. No rights reserved by me.
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e.coli by Peter Highton
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bacillus subtilis by Peter Highton

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*Highton, P (1968) The minimum mass detectable by electron microscopy
** Time flies like an arrow but fruit flies like a banana.

*** I have updated Noreen’s Wikipedia page in the past.

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