Geoff Palmer (scientist)

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Sir Godfrey Henry Oliver Palmer OBE (born 9 April 1940[1]) is a Professor Emeritus in the School of Life Sciences at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, and a human rights activist.[2][3]

He discovered the barley abrasion process while 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,[4] considered the "Nobel prize of brewing".[5]

In 1989, he became the first black professor in Scotland,[6] becoming a professor emeritus after he retired in 2005. He was knighted in the 2014 New Year Honours.[7][8]

Early life[edit]

Palmer was born in St Elizabeth, Jamaica.[9] His father left home when he was seven years old;[10] after his mother moved to work as a dressmaker in England in 1948, Palmer grew up in Kingston, Jamaica under the care of his eight aunts.[11]

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,[5] and he was sent to Shelborne Road Secondary Modern.[11] His cricketing skill gained him a place on the London Schools' cricket team, and a place at a Highbury Grammar School.[10] 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 Leicester University, earning a degree (2:2) in botany by 1964.[11] He sought post-graduate work, and applied to study for an MSc at the University of Nottingham, funded by the Ministry of Agriculture. He has claimed that Sir Keith Joseph was on the interview panel and, unimpressed by his inability to tell wheat and barley apart, advised him to return to Trinidad and grow bananas.[5][12] However, Joseph was not at any time connected with the Ministry of Agriculture and there is no independent evidence that Joseph was ever a member of a panel at Nottingham University on the topic; it has been suggested that Palmer may have mistaken him for someone else.[13]

Academic work[edit]

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 Edinburgh University, beginning his doctorate in 1965. After completing his PhD thesis entitled Ultra-structure of cereal grains in relation to germination in 1967,[14] he began his research work at the Brewing Research Foundation in Surrey in 1968,[11] where he worked on the science and technology of barley.[15] He moved back to Heriot-Watt University in 1977.[16] He received a Doctorate of Science in 1985,[11] and was offered a personal chair at Heriot-Watt in 1989 after Macleod had retired.[5]

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 is the inventor of 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."[17]

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.

Human rights and racial equality work[edit]

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.[9] His a book on race relations entitled Mr. White and the Ravens, was first published in 2001,[18] 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.[19][20]

In 2007, the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade in the British Empire, Professor Geoff Palmer was named among the "100 Great Black Britons".[21]

He serves as the Honorary President of Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council (ELREC), an Edinburgh-based organization which works to tackle discrimination and promote human rights and equality in the community, specifically with regards to the nine protected characteristics outlined in the Equality Act 2010.[22] Palmer recently spoke about the Ethnic Coding in NHS Scotland at ELREC's 40th Annual General Meeting.[23]

Media and awards[edit]

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.[9] 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.[9] Palmer has been awarded Honorary Doctorates by Abertay University in 2009,[24] the Open University in 2010,[11][25] the University of the West Indies in 2015,[26] and Heriot-Watt University in 2015,.[27][28] He was knighted in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to human rights, science, and charity.[29][30][31]

In August 2015 Palmer was the guest of interviewer Jim Al-Khalili on the BBC Radio 4 programme The Life Scientific.[12]

Personal life[edit]

Palmer has lived in the town of Penicuik in Midlothian since 1977.[7] He is married to educational psychologist Margaret Palmer.[10] They have three children, two daughters and a son.


  1. ^ "Godfrey Henry Oliver (Geoff) PALMER", Debrett's People of Today.
  2. ^ The Z Files: Professor Geoff Palmer Retrieved 25 December 2011.
  3. ^ "Professor Geoff Palmer to Made Freeman Midlothian", News & events, Heriot-Watt University, 14 September 2011. Retrieved 25 December 2011.
  4. ^ Award of Distinction, American Society of Brewing Chemists
  5. ^ a b c d Keith Joseph suggested I 'go back and grow bananas', Times Educational Supplement, 15 August 2003
  6. ^ Claim that Scots are more tolerant of immigration is a 'myth', says country's first black professor, Daily Telegraph, 10 March 2015
  7. ^ a b "First black university professor knighted", Herald Scotland, 31 December 2013.
  8. ^ "Godfrey Henry Palmer is Scotland's first black professor in Scotland", Retrieved 25 December 2011.[dead link]
  9. ^ a b c d Professor Palmer, 100 Great Black Britons. Retrieved December 25, 2011.
  10. ^ a b c Jamaican scientist opens doors for African-Caribbean children, The Guardian, 28 September 2010
  11. ^ a b c d e f "Biography - Geoff Palmer". From Marjorie H. Morgan, Caribbean Britain: The Cultural and Biographical Directory, 2013.
  12. ^ a b 21:30 (4 August 2015). "BBC Radio 4 - The Life Scientific, Geoff Palmer". Retrieved 7 August 2015. 
  13. ^ Charles Moore, "Spectators Notes", The Spectator website, accessed 10 September 2015.
  14. ^ WorldCat
  15. ^ "Geoff PALMER, Grain Scientist", Penicuik Greats.
  16. ^ Anti-racism chief given knighthood, The Scotsman, 15 January 2014
  17. ^ International Brewer and Distiller, 8:8 (August 2012), 5.
  18. ^ WorldCat
  19. ^ "Transcript of 'Trading Truth' clip", BBC . Retrieved 25 December 2011.[dead link]
  20. ^ Jackie Kemp, "Tartan and home truths. A new centre for the study of the Scottish diaspora is already caught up in controversy", The Guardian, 25 November 2008. Retrieved 25 December 2011.
  21. ^ List of 100 Great Black Britons. 100 Great Black Britons. Retrieved 25 December 2011.
  22. ^ ELREC directors Retrieved 25 December 2011.
  23. ^ 40th AGM ELREC Newsletter, December 2011. Retrieved 25 December 2011.
  24. ^ Abertay announces honorary graduands, 2009
  25. ^ Conferment of Honorary Degrees and Presentation of Graduates, Open University, 2010
  26. ^ 21 Honorary Degrees at The UWI Graduation Ceremonies, 2015
  27. ^ [1], Heriot-Watt University, 2015
  28. ^ "Penicuik Man to Join Nelson Mandela as a Freeman of Midlothian". Midlothian government site. Retrieved 25 December 2011.
  29. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 60728. p. 2. 31 December 2013.
  30. ^ "Eminent alumni named in New Year’s Honours list", News - The University of Edinburgh, 28 January 2014.
  31. ^ awarded New Year's Honours, BBC News, 31 December 2013

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