Sir Gareth Roberts Papers

Ref: MS 429

Title: Sir Gareth Roberts Papers

Scope: Material relating to the personal life and professional career of Sir Gareth Roberts, including school exercise books and reports, correspondence, diaries, committee and meeting papers, publications, photographs, computer discs, audio cassette tapes, 35mm slides, VHS video cassettes, lectures, prizes and certificates.

Dates: 1942-2007
Level: Fonds
Extent: 385 boxes
Name of creator: Sir Gareth Roberts

Administrative / biographical history:

Dating from 1942 to 2007, the collection covers the whole span of Sir Gareth’s life from his early schooldays to memorial services held in his honour after his death. There are a few earlier items relating to Sir Gareth’s family history, and a few later items. The collection comprises a wide variety of items in a range of formats relating to Sir Gareth’s personal life and professional career, including school exercise books and reports, correspondence, diaries, committee and meeting papers, publications, photographs, computer discs, audio cassette tapes, 35mm slides, VHS video cassettes, lectures, prizes and certificates.
Professor Sir Gareth Gwyn Roberts was an eminent physicist who also had a profound impact on the landscape of higher education in Britain and overseas. As a scientist, he was particularly interested in the twin concerns of scientific research and its practical application in industry. The development of science education was also a passion of his.
Sir Gareth and his twin sister Gwyneth Gwyn Roberts were born in Penmaenmawr, Caernarvonshire, North Wales on 16th May 1940. Their younger sister was named Enid.
Educated at John Bright Grammar School, Llandudno, Sir Gareth progressed as an undergraduate to University College of North Wales, Bangor, gaining a first class degree in physics in 1961, followed in 1965, by a PhD in semiconductor physics. His thesis A Theoretical Study of Space Charge Currents in Solids was written under the supervision of Professor Richard H Tredgold.

Sir Gareth’s first academic appointment was as Lecturer in Physics, University College of North Wales, Bangor (1963-1966). After a two year period (1966-1968) working as a research scientist for Xerox, USA he was appointed Senior Lecturer, then Reader, then Professor of Physics at the New University of Ulster (1968-1976). In 1976 Sir Gareth moved to Durham University to take up the post of Professor of Applied Physics and Head of the Department of Applied Physics and Electronics, a position he held until 1985. Between 1985 and 1990, he took up a position in industry becoming Director of Research at Thorn EMI, with responsibility for the technology strategies of each of its operating companies. From 1986 the appointment also included a visiting professorship in electronic engineering at Oxford University and a fellowship at Brasenose College, Oxford, enabling him to develop his enthusiasm for closer relationships between academia and industry. Later appointments in industry included Chairman of Medical Solutions PLC (1999-2006) and Chairman of Global Education Management Systems Ltd (from 2000).

In 1991 Sir Gareth was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield marking his decision to move into university management; he retained this position until 2000. As well as leading the University he was also involved in many initiatives to develop and promote the City of Sheffield and its region including; Yorkshire Forward, the Regional Development Agency for Yorkshire and Humber; Sheffield Common Purpose Advisory Group and Sheffield City Liaison Group. Sir Gareth also established a regional office of Sheffield University to develop the University’s contribution to the local economy and a schools’ liaison section to work with schools whose pupils rarely went on to higher education – the Early Outreach Scheme. Sir Gareth also increased Sheffield’s national and international profile through such initiatives as the Worldwide Universities Network, an alliance of 17 major universities in the UK, US, Australia, China and Europe.

Many of Sir Gareth’s initiatives had their origins in his ‘Town and Gown’ dinners and quiz evenings co-hosted by his wife Carolyn at their home ‘The Croft’. These successful social evenings continued when he moved to Oxford in 2001 to take up the Presidency of Wolfson College.


Sir Gareth was renowned for his work in the fields of the physics of semiconductor devices and molecular electronics, with a particular interest in Langmuir-Blodgett films (a set of monolayers, or layers of organic material one molecule thick, deposited on a solid substrate). In the late 1970s and 1980s he was actively involved in several conferences on insulating films on semiconductors and during his career he published over 150 academic papers. He was also the author of several patents describing the applications of thin organic films. 1990 saw the publication of ‘Langmuir-Blodgett Films’ which became a standard work in the field of molecular electronics. He was also the founding editor of the Journal of Molecular Electronics.

Sir Gareth and his research group at Durham University collaborated with Joyce-Loebel in the development and production of the Langmuir-Blodgett Trough during the 1970s and 1980s. An episode of Tomorrow’s World broadcast by the BBC on 6th May 1982 included a thin films segment and, although Sir Gareth did not himself appear, he was involved in explaining how the Trough worked to presenter Judith Hann. He did appear on television when he presented the Royal Institution/BBC Christmas Lectures in 1988 on ‘Science and Technology in the Home of the Future’. In 1984 Sir Gareth was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1985 he was awarded the Holweck Medal and Prize for Physics from the Institute of Physics and the Société Français de Physique. Sir Gareth was also the recipient of many honorary fellowships and degrees from UK universities.

Public Sector

Between 1989 and 1992 Sir Gareth served on the Universities Funding Council, successfully arguing for the establishment of a Welsh Sub-Committee, which he chaired, to raise the profile of higher education in Wales.From 1995 to 1997 Sir Gareth served as Chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals (CVCP), a period during which the effects of government cuts to university funding were becoming more and more apparent. Public concern led to the Dearing Inquiry into Higher Education, commissioned in 1996. Dearing’s main recommendations, including the introduction of means-tested tuition fees, were almost identical to the advice given by the CVCP during Sir Gareth’s chairmanship.
Sir Gareth was also a member of the board of the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE). He led a review of the Universities Research Assessment Exercise published in 2003 with the aim of developing alternative approaches to research assessment. Sir Gareth was subsequently invited by the Australian government to chair the Expert Advisory Group for the Research Quality Framework (Australia) in 2004.
Throughout his career Sir Gareth was involved with the various research councils. He was also a member (from 1978), and later Chair, of the Equipment Sub-Committee of the University Grants Committee. Sir Gareth was a member of the Retained Organs Commission, 2001-2004, established to advise government on the taking and retention of organs and tissue at post-mortem examinations following the publication of the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital report. He was also invited to join the Quality Assurance Framework for Universities (Singapore) in 2003. He was particularly involved in external validation visits to the National University of Singapore, Nangyang Technological University and Singapore Management University. He was involved in the International Partnerships of Research Excellence (UK-USA Academic Collaboration), a project supported by the Gatsby Foundation Charitable Trust with the aim of encouraging those in the humanities to collaborate more with their contemporaries in the United States.
In 2001 Sir Gareth was invited by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, to chair a review into the supply of scientists and engineers needed to support a competitive modern economy and to examine ways of making science careers more attractive to young people. The resulting report SET for Success, Review of the Supply of Scientists and Engineers in the UK was published in 2002. The report’s recommendations were accepted in full by Government.
Sir Gareth was also involved in many other organisations and initiatives including; the Research Careers Initiative aimed at enhancing training and employment of contract research staff in UK universities and colleges; the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on Science and Technology (ACOST); Science Learning Centres; and the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI). Sir Gareth was; President, Institute of Physics (1998-2000) Chairman of the Engineering and Technology Board (2006); President, Science Council (2000-2006); Chairman, SETNET (The Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics Network) (2005); and President, Association for Science Education (2006).


Sir Gareth married twice; firstly, Charlotte Standen in 1962 with whom he had two sons and one daughter; secondly, Carolyn Rich in 1994, becoming stepfather to her two daughters. His interests included bridge, football (he was a lifelong supporter of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club), and listening to a wide range of musical genres.
Sir Gareth was knighted for his services to higher education in 1997. He died from cancer on 6th of February 2007, aged 66.

Source: By bequest, 2008
System of arrangement: By category
Subjects: Physicists - Great Britain; Education, Higher - Great Britain; Scientists - Great Britain
Names: Roberts, G.G. (Gareth Gwyn), 1940-2007
Conditions of access: Available to all researchers, by appointment
Restrictions: Certain documents are restricted
Copyright: According to document
Finding aids: Listed