Tribute to Professor David Nedwell

  • Date

    Mon 17 Apr 23

Professor David Nedwell

Emeritus Professor David (Dave) Nedwell, who died in March 2023, was a long serving member of the School of Life Sciences, and an internationally recognised environmental microbiologist.

He obtained his PhD from the University College of North Wales (now Bangor University) in 1970, studying at the Menai Bridge Marine Laboratories. Dave and his wife Barbara (Babs) then went to Fiji for four years, where Dave worked at the University of South Pacific in the capital Suva.

In 1974 he joined the then Department of Biology, located in the John Tabor Laboratories (the old stable block at the back of Wivenhoe House), and built his research group at the University.  Dave’s research covered a wide range of topics, all underpinned by a fascination with the roles of microorganisms in the cycling of nutrients in marine, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems.

This microbial cycling underpins the functioning of our planet, and Dave and his group did pioneering work on the roles of sulphate-reducing bacteria (species that process much of the organic carbon in marine sediments), on methanogens (which break down organic matter mainly in freshwater systems, and produce the greenhouse gas methane), and on denitrifying bacteria (that remove nitrates from water and produce both inert nitrogen gas, and also the climate-active gas nitrous dioxide).

He conducted research on the microbial ecology, biogeochemistry and trace-gas production of marine and estuarine sediments, mangroves, soils, landfill sites, freshwaters and peatlands, and in the frozen Antarctic.

A real strength of his research was combining measurements of biogeochemical processes with an understanding of the species of microbe underpinning them. He was an early adopter of the new approaches provided by developments in molecular biology, and did some ground-breaking research measuring the relationships between rates of microbial processes and the presence and activity of key genes involved in those processes.

Dave was a great collaborator, and much liked and sought out by his many collaborators.  He worked with colleagues at Essex, within the UK and across the world, and was consistently successful in obtaining research grants from NERC (Natural Environment Research Council), Government departments, the EU and other funders.

He was a successful teacher, opening up the fascinating world of microbes to many students unaware of their existence, and served as both Head of Department and Dean of the School of Science and Engineering.

Dave was a warm-hearted and supportive mentor for many of us here at Essex.  Dave and Babs were generous with their hospitality, and Dave’s willingness, and pleasure in collaboration was key to many of our present colleagues’ career successes (both at Essex and those now holding senior academic positions across the world).

It is no exaggeration to say that the example he set has led to the continued success and camaraderie within the Ecology and Environmental Microbiology group here at the University of Essex. Dave will be much missed by Babs, his two daughters Siân and Rachel and their families, and by his many friends and colleagues.

Professor Graham Underwood, on behalf of the School of Life Sciences