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Royal Institution of Great Britain

Rideal, Sir Eric Keightley (1890-1974)


Reference code(s): GB 0116 Eric Rideal Collection

Held at: Royal Institution of Great Britain

Title: Rideal, Sir Eric Keightley (1890-1974)

Date(s): 1936-1973

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 2 boxes; 0.23 metres

Name of creator(s): Rideal, Sir Eric Keightley, 1890-1974. Knight. Physical chemist. Colloid scientist.


Administrative/Biographical history:

Eric Rideal was born the son of Samuel Rideal, a public analyst and consulting chemist, and Elizabeth at Sydenham, Kent. He was educated at Farnham Grammar School and Oundle School as a child. In 1907 he entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge to read natural sciences. In 1910 he gained first class honours in part one of the Tripos, and subsequently gained first class honours in part two of the Tripos in 1911. A lecturer at Cambridge, Sir William Bate Hardy, steered Eric Rideal into studying surface chemistry. This resulted in him researching at Aachen and Bonn, Germany. He studied electrochemistry and graduated in 1912 and in 1913 he gained the gold medal of the Bonn Society of Engineers for his research. He returned to Westminster, England and in 1914, he worked with war supplies. He was under the Artists' Rifles and moved on to the Royal Engineers as Captain. He was invalided in 1916 and returned to scientific research namely nitrogen research at the University College London laboratory. In 1919 he co-wrote Catalysis in Theory and Practice with H. S. Taylor. He was a visiting professor of the University of Illinois in 1919 and in 1921, he married Margaret Atlee, widow of William Agnew Paton. In 1930 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society. He also became Professor of Colloid Physics (later Colloid Science) at Cambridge University in 1930, a position he held until 1946. During this period he worked on electrochemistry, heterogeneous catalysis, colloid and surface chemistry and kinetics spectroscopy. From 1939-1945 he worked on explosives, fuels and polymers for the war effort of the Second World War. In 1946 he became Fullerian Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Davy-Faraday Research Laboratory at The Royal Institution of Great Britain (RI). He left the RI in 1949 and became Professor of Chemistry at King's College London in 1950, retiring in 1955. In 1951 he was knighted and also gained the Davy medal of the Royal Society. From 1953 to 1958, he was Chairman of the Advisory Council on Scientific Research and the Technical Development of the Ministry of Supply. He was elected a Fellow of King's College London in 1963. He died in a nursing home in London in 1974.


Scope and content/abstract:

The papers of Sir Eric Rideal relate to various aspects of his work including: articles, speeches and writings on ecology and chemistry; proofs and articles such as 'the absorption of gases and vapours by solids', 'intermolecular forces in two-dimensional systems' (published in Physica 4, 1937) and 'some experiences on heterogeneous catalysis' an article for Shokubai, 1971. Notes, drafts and working papers are generally undated and fragmentary and relate to topics such as enzymes, catalysis, chemical reactivity, diachisis and disjoining pressure. Papers relating to committees, conferences and organisations refer to the International Union of Pure Applied Chemistry for the period 1967-1971; the Ministry of Supply for the period of 1953-1958; with various other papers on committees and conferences such as the Biological Research Advisory Board, the Chemical Engineering Committee, the High Explosives Committee and the Rideal conferences on chemisorption and catalysis. Scientific correspondence refers to barnacles, ion exchange and surface energy anisotropy in metals. This is evidently a very small portion of the records that he would have generated.


Language/scripts of material: English.

System of arrangement:

By section as follows: (A) Articles, speeches and writings; (B) Notes drafts and working papers; (C) Committees, conferences and organisations; (D) Scientific correspondence.

Conditions governing access:

Access to bona fide researchers by appointment with the Keeper of Collections or the Assistant Archivist, the Royal Institution of Great Britain (RI).

Conditions governing reproduction:

Reproduction of material is permitted at the discretion of the Keeper of Collections, RI.

Physical characteristics:

Finding aids:

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Sir Eric Keightley Rideal: CSAC catalogue no. 62/6/78, 9 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath


Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information:


Archival history:

Received by the Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre for cataloguing in 1978 from Lady Oliver, daughter.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited in the Royal Institution in 1978.


Existence and location of originals:

Existence and location of copies:

Related material:

There are some papers and correspondence at Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives (reference CSA90/1/83). The Royal Institution of Great Britain holds a portrait of Sir Eric Keightly Rideal.

Publication note:



Archivist's note: Description based on that created by NCUACS, University of Bath. Description amended by Miss Ivone Martins, Assistant Archivist, RI.

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: Original July 2000; Amended January 2001.

Physical chemistry

Personal names
Rideal | Sir | Eric Keightley | 1890-1974 | Knight | physical chemist

Corporate names