- Hi Jeff, In the continuing saga of the unusual deaths
of microbiologists, here's another who was struck and killed by a car while
jogging. That takes the count to twelve since November last year.
- Regards, Ian
- The Times - London
- March 27, 2002
- David Wynn-Williams
- Biologist who studied the life of the hardy polar microbe
and from it evolved theories of life on Mars.
- A microbiologist who had for 25 years studied the
of primitive organisms in the Antarctic environment and the implications
for the wider universe, David Wynn-Williams, had been using his findings
to assess the likelihood of the existence of some form of life on Mars.
These studies, which had led to an exchange of ideas with Nasa in the US,
explored the behaviour of life forms on the frontiers of existence.
- In the course of a series of ten visits to Antarctica
from the mid-1970s onwards, Wynn-Williams had assessed the capability of
microbes to adapt to environmental extremes, including the bombardment
of ultraviolet rays and global warming conditions which might parallel
those of the early Primary Era of Earth s existence, or of present day
Mars. Besides his links with Nasa, he had also collaborated with the
Antarctic programme at Terra Nova Bay, with the New Zealand programme at
Scott Base and with American research programmes in the Antarctic at
- A man of boundless physical as well as intellectual
Wynn-Williams generated a constant flow of ideas, which entranced both
his contemporaries and the young. He was killed in a road accident while
out jogging near his Cambridge home.
- David Wynn-Williams was born in Cheshire in 1946 and
educated at Calday Grange Grammar School and Birkenhead Technical College.
From the latter he went, in 1965, to the University College of Wales,
where he read botany and microbiology, graduating BSc in 1968. He stayed
at Aberystwyth for a further three years, being awarded his PhD for a
on environmental biology in 1971.
- Wynn-Williams was a talented science teacher who loved
imparting ideas to the young. For the next two years he taught school
first in South London and then at the Judd School, Tonbridge. When he
moved to Cambridge and into higher research and farflung fieldwork, he
nevertheless continued to revel in talking directly to classroom students
about the excitement of developing scientific ideas.
- He had first become interested in the polar regions after
leading the University College of Wales expedition to Iceland in 1970.
In 1974 he was invited to join the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge
and spent the next two winters and three summers at Signy Island in the
South Orkneys, studying terrestrial microbiology.
- This became the central study of his life and he was
to return on four separate occasions: 1980-81, 1984-85, 1987-88 and
to continue research at Antarctic lithosol sites those whose soil is
composed of wholly or partly weathered rock fragments. In the meantime
he was, in 1982-83, guest scientist with the New Zealand Antarctic Research
Programme. Ten years later, he was appointed leader of the British
Survey Expedition to the Mars Glacier lithosol sites, on Alexander Island
in West Antarctica.
- After a year, 1993, as section head of terrestrial
in BAS s Terrestrial and Freshwater Life Sciences Division, Wynn-Williams
went in 1995 as co-leader of an international expedition which worked in
the McMurdo Dry Valleys and Terra Nova Bay. He was later involved in two
separate expeditions to oversee the development of an Antarctic desert
research site at Mars Oasis.
- In 2000 he was appointed leader of the Antarctic
Project, which explores the effects of environmental stress at the limits
of life on Earth analogous to conditions which might subsist on Mars.
This drew Wynn-Williams into collaboration with the Nasa Ames Research
Centre, the Johnson Space Centre and Lunar & Planetary Institute,
and Montana State University, to develop and evaluate a miniature confocal
microscope and Raman spectrometer (CMaRS) for use on a Mars landing
CMaRS has been adopted as the prime instrument for the proposed UK-led
Vanguard Mars lander-rover mission, to be submitted to the European Space
- Wynn-Williams had also worked with the German Aerospace
Institute at Cologne, on the UVC (short-wave ultra-violet radiation in
the 200-280 nanometre waveband) atmosphere of early Earth and Mars. Last
year he returned to the Taylor Valley long-term ecological research site
in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, where he worked with colleagues on the American
- His publications were numerous and covered subjects as
diverse as recent aqueous environments in Martian impact craters, the need
for collaboration in astrobiology, and lichens at the limits of life. His
pioneering work had been acknowledged with the award of a Polar Medal as
early as 1980.
- In spite of the amount of time he spent in the Antarctic
wastes, Wynn-Williams found time to be active in schools in Cambridge at
a number of levels. He loved nothing better than to talk to the young about
science whenever he could, and was chairman of the Chesterton College
- Outside this he loved marathon running and choral
his Welsh ancestry having endowed him with a fine voice. Among the choruses
in which he sang was the Cambridge Philharmonic Choir.
- David Wynn-Williams is survived by his wife, Elizabeth,
an artist, and by their two daughters.
- David Wynn-Williams, microbiologist, was born on July
16,1946. He died on March 24, 2002, aged 55.