Geoff Palmer (scientist)
Sir Geoff Palmer
Godfrey Henry Oliver Palmer
9 April 1940
|Education||Kingston Senior School, and North Street Congregational School, Jamaica. Highbury County School, London.|
|Alma mater||University of Leicester|
University of Edinburgh
Sir Godfrey Henry Oliver Palmer OBE (//; born 9 April 1940) is a Professor Emeritus in the School of Life Sciences at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, and a human rights activist.
He discovered the barley abrasion process whilst a researcher at the Brewing Research Foundation from 1968 to 1977. In 1998, Palmer became the fourth person, and the first European, to be honoured with the American Society of Brewing Chemists Award of Distinction, considered the "Nobel prize of brewing".
Palmer was born in St Elizabeth, Jamaica. His father left home when he was seven years old; after his mother moved to work as a dressmaker in England in 1948, part of the Windrush generation, Palmer grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, in the care of his eight aunts.
He joined his mother in London in March 1955, shortly before his 15th birthday, living at a house on the Caledonian Road. Too young to work, he was assessed as educationally subnormal at his first school, and he was sent to Shelborne Road Secondary Modern. His cricketing skill gained him a place on the London Schools' cricket team, and a place at a Highbury Grammar School. After leaving school in 1958 with six O-levels and two A-levels, in botany and zoology, he found a job as a junior lab technician at Queen Elizabeth College, London University, working for Professor Garth Chapman. He gained further qualifications studying one day a week at a local polytechnic.
In 1961 Palmer went to the University of Leicester earning a degree (2:2) in botany in 1964. He sought post-graduate work, and applied to study for an MSc at the University of Nottingham, funded by the Ministry of Agriculture.
After an interview with Professor Anna Macleod, he secured a place to study for a PhD in grain science and technology jointly with Heriot-Watt College and the University of Edinburgh, beginning his doctorate in 1965. After completing his PhD thesis entitled Ultra-structure of cereal grains in relation to germination in 1967, he began his research work at the Brewing Research Foundation in Surrey in 1968, where he worked on the science and technology of barley. He moved back to Heriot-Watt University in 1977. He received a Doctorate of Science in 1985, and was offered a personal chair at Heriot-Watt in 1989 after Macleod had retired.
Palmer specialises in grain science and has extensive expertise with barley, sorghum, other cereals and malt, having written a textbook on the subject entitled Cereal Science and Technology. He investigated the processes that turn barley into malt, and he invented the barley abrasion process while at the Brewing Research Foundation. At Heriot-Watt, he and his students worked on brewing using sorghum. He recently developed a new simple method to detect pre-germination in cereal grains showing difference in amylase actions of individual grains of a barley sample containing different degrees of pre-germination, with results that can be expressed in optical density (example image). In the journal International Brewer and Distiller, it was reported that Palmer had "requested samples of pre-germinated grain as he is developing a new amylase test which will look at the distribution of the enzyme across individual grains in a sample. A small number of grains, with high amylase/pre-germination activity, can cause unexpected storage or processing problems and visual or average analyses do not always identify uneven distribution."
He attracted and received funding to set up the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University, through initiating contact with the distilling industry. He has also contributed to the Encyclopedia of Seeds and the Encyclopedia of Grain Science, writing the Foreword for the latter.
On 29 April 2021, it was announced that Sir Geoff Palmer has been appointed as the Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University, for an initial term of five years. The role is central to promoting Heriot-Watt's prominence and profile in research in the University's campuses in Scotland, Malaysia and Dubai. Of this prestigious new appointment, Sir Geoff Palmer told the Edinburgh Reporter: "Becoming the Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University, an institution I know well and admire, is a position I accept with both honour and humility. It is an institution that has, since its inception, fostered the ethos of inclusion and education for all, and I am very proud of the continued focus on ensuring that its doors are open to everyone – in Scotland and across the world. As a truly international University, I am very much looking forward to promoting and enhancing its reputation as a provider of world-class education and as a global leader in innovative research and will assist the University to achieve its goals and ambitions during my period as Chancellor.”
Human rights and racial equality work
Alongside his academic work, Palmer is also a prominent human rights activist and is involved in a considerable amount of charity work in the community. He wrote a series of articles for the Times Educational Supplement from 1969 to 1971 on way to improve the education of children from ethnic minorities. His book on race relations entitled Mr. White and the Ravens, was first published in 2001, and he contributed an article to The Scotsman newspaper entitled "Stephen Lawrence analysis: Society is more mixed but racism has not gone away - we still have a long way to go" (5 January 2012). Palmer has also authored a book on the history of slavery, The Enlightenment Abolished: Citizens of Britishness (2007), and has spoken out extensively against the slave trade.
He serves as the Honorary President of Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council (ELREC), an Edinburgh-based organisation which works to tackle discrimination and promote human rights and equality in the community, specifically with regard to the nine protected characteristics outlined in the Equality Act 2010. Palmer recently spoke about the Ethnic Coding in NHS Scotland at ELREC's 40th Annual General Meeting.
Controversy over Henry Dundas and the abolition movement
Palmer is the leading proponent of the movement to reinterpret the Melville Monument. He argues that because Henry Dundas proposed an amendment to a motion before the House of Commons in 1792 to achieve abolition gradually, rather than immediately, he delayed abolition of the slave trade by 15 years. Other critics point to Dundas's role in promoting the expansion of the slavery-based empire in the Caribbean during the 1790s as a reason he should not be celebrated. On 4th April, 2021, Palmer appeared on an episode of the BBC's The Antiques Roadshow, presenting his antique collection of silver sugar bowls and tongs.  He described the significance of the silverware representing the enjoyment of sugar by some: 'while slaves were working and dying, people in Britain were consuming the sugar, in those bowls, and with those tongs. To me, those silver bowls tell us the sort of things we do in order to make money, and to have a lifestyle that we think we deserve'.
On Media and awards
In recognition of his work and achievements in the field of grain science, Palmer was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2003. In 2008, Palmer became the fourth and only European individual to be honoured with the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC) Award for distinction in scientific research and good citizenship: he received the award in Boston, Massachusetts in 2008. Palmer has been awarded Honorary Doctorates by Abertay University in 2009, the Open University in 2010, the University of the West Indies in 2015, and Heriot-Watt University in 2015. He was knighted in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to human rights, science, and charity.
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