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Class of 1976 Chemistry alumni return to campus

Chemists 1976_Brunel Reunion 2022

Alumni reunions are back! The Alumni Office were delighted to welcome our Chemistry graduates from 1976 back to campus in June (pictured above). The group had a fantastic day, meeting for lunch in the Lancaster Hotel, revisiting their former labs in the Heinz Wolff building and receiving a tour of campus before heading for a social gathering in the evening.

Read all about the story of the Brunel Chemists class of 1976 group below, written by alumnus David Pinkney.

Our time as Brunelians

The Brunel Chemists class of 1976 group includes Applied and Industrial Chemists, including 31 members from a total number of 48 graduates. We had our first reunion in 2001 to mark 25 years since graduating. Since 2016 we have been having reunions every two years or so. When we were undergraduates, we were a close-knit community - our courses, practical work and projects meant that we spent a lot of time together.

Brunel was very different in the 1970s. It was very much science and technology based, and there were no arts-based subjects. The University was brand new in 1972; some parts were still being built. The library was in the Lecture Centre and was moved into its permanent home in the Bannerman Centre while we were there. We were the first undergraduates on the new Industrial Chemistry course in 1972. As far as I was aware all the undergraduate courses were of the thin sandwich type, meaning that in the first three years we spent two terms at the University and then a minimum of 20 weeks working in industry. In the final year we had three terms at the University.

"All of this innovation gave us purpose, focus and a sense of community."

Most of us lived in the Loan Finance Residences (LFRs) in Isambard Close. They were flats with five student studies / bedrooms. They were basic but they added to the feeling of community. Our ‘common room’ was a local pub called the Shovel (named after the type of dredging barge) on the canal - it is now called the Malt Shovel. It was particularly useful in the power cuts during ‘The Three-Day Week’ emergency! The centre piece in the bar was a pike with a cigar in its mouth, and for some time it also had a set of false teeth! The LFRs were knocked down sometime after 2001 to make way for new halls of residence; the location of the current Isambard Complex.

All of this innovation gave us purpose, focus and a sense of community. That is not to say that we didn’t enjoy ourselves, we certainly did. Most of our fun was not repeatable; rag week was chaos!

Once a Brunelian, always a Brunelian

We had a reunion at Brunel in 2016 during the 50th anniversary celebrations, marking 40 years since our graduation and 50 years since Brunel was founded. We had lunch with Dr Geoffrey Saul (always called Geoff) - he was over 90 years old but remembered us all! His main interest was water quality and he steered some of us to a career in the water industry.

"Our reunions do always have a theme - ships, trains, university; but the main thing is catching up with each other."

Chemists 1976_Didcot Railway Reunion 2018

(Didcot Railway Centre - 2018 reunion)

The next reunion was at the Didcot Railway Centre in 2018 (pictured above) to mark Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s contribution to railway design and construction in the UK. We hoped that Professor Geoffrey Bond (former Head of Industrial Chemistry) would join us, but arrangements could not be made. However, he made a video which was played during the reunion. Professor Bond was an international authority on heterogeneous catalysis, and sadly passed away in 2022.

Our reunion in 2020 was postponed due to Covid and was instead held in 2021. This time it was aboard the SS Great Britain in the Brunel Museum in Bristol. To celebrate 50 years since joining Brunel we had the 2022 reunion at the University. In those 50 years, the campus has changed considerably. In 1972 there were large open spaces which have since been filled in to support the considerable growth during the fifty years. The Chemistry department was closed in 2000 - it was sad but inevitable, as there were not enough students applying for the courses. There was an event to mark the closure which some of us attended.

Over the years

Over the years we have settled down and done all the usual things; got married, had children, got divorced, travelled, got ill, found some new jobs and careers, been made redundant, retired. We are spread all over the world, the furthest being Adelaide in Australia. Some have stayed in chemistry, some moved into management. We have transformed from unruly undergraduates into pillars of society (well mostly!).

Our reunions do always have a theme - ships, trains, university but the main thing is catching up with each other. A fly on the wall would hear “Do you remember when…?” or “What happened to…?” or “Oh yes, I remember…”. Our group has been resourceful and resilient over the years and now we find we do not have to work anymore. Our longest industrial training period is over.

We plan to have more reunions every two years. The one in 2026 will be very significant as that will be 50 years since we graduated. No doubt Brunel will have changed again by then.

Written by David Pinkney