A PIONEERING chemist whose influence was felt across Oxford has died, aged 96.

Sir Rex Richards served as vice-chancellor of Oxford University and was renowned in scientific circles for his work with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).

Through the latter, he helped Abingdon-based company Oxford Instruments (OI) sell powerful magnets worldwide and paved the way for the first whole-body NMR spectroscopy unit at Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital.

Sir Rex Richards was born on October 28, 1922 in Devon.

His dad, Harold, was a builder and timber valuer for a family business managed by Rex's mum, Edith.

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As a youngster, he attended Colyton grammar school before studying chemistry at St John's College in Oxford, where he achieved a first in 1945 and then completed a doctorate.

Science filtered into all aspects of Sir Rex's life and in 1948 he married a fellow spectroscopist, Eva Vago, a Hungarian refugee. The couple had two children, Jill and Frances.

From 1947, he was a fellow in chemistry at Lincoln College and looked to apply his ability to a relatively recent phenomenon, NMR.

Sir Rex cast the iron for his magnet at the Cowley car plant, using his own hands to wind miles of copper wire.

He also spent time at Magdalen College and the prestigious Harvard University in America, before becoming a professor of chemistry and fellow of Exeter College in 1964.

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The professor's research required large, superconducting magnets that could generate uniform magnetic fields, which saw Sir Rex team up with Martin Wood, the founder of OI.

This proved a match made in heaven and began a golden period for NMR research, leading to Sir Rex's knighthood in 1977 - the same year he became vice-chancellor at Oxford, a position he held for four years.

In 1969, he began a 15-year stint as warden of Merton College, where he attempted to foster the highest academic standards but also create an 'air of informality'.

His other scientific achievements included chairing the Oxford Enzyme Group, which brought together 20 people from different departments of the university.

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In 1970, the group received Science Research Council funding to buy a new magnet and associated equipment for pioneering NMR research, studying enzyme structure.

This led to the NMR spectroscopy unit being installed at the John Radcliffe in 1983, which could probe energy metabolism in human patients.

Sir Rex's research won him honorary degrees from thirteen universities and a host of medals from scientific societies across the world.

He had a range of interests, with his impressive CV boasting roles including president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, chancellor of Exeter University and chairman of the National Gallery Trust.

Despite these lofty titles, the academic was always kind and helpful to colleagues of all positions.

His wife died in 2009, while Sir Rex passed away on July 15 this year. He is survived by his two daughters.