Sutton was born in 1906, in modest circumstances. Thanks to a County Scholarship he was able to attend Watford Grammar School 1918-1923; in 1923 he won a Scholarship to Lincoln College, Oxford, to read chemistry.
At Oxford, Sutton was fortunate in having as his tutor Nevil Sidgwick, who encouraged him, guided and collaborated in his early studies of thallium, and arranged for him to spend six months 1928-1929 in the laboratory of Peter Debye at Leipzig learning the technique of measuring the electrical polarisation of molecules in solution (electric dipole moment measurements). On his return to Oxford, he designed apparatus and became the leading experimentalist in this type of measurement. An early result of the work was the confirmation of Robert Robinson’s theories of organic reactions. Robinson supported Sutton’s successful application in 1932 for a Fellowship by Examination at Magdalen College, submitted his early papers on dipole moments to the Royal Society for publication, and (Sutton believed) backed the award of a Rockefeller Foundation Scholarship which enabled him to work in Linus Pauling’s laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in 1933-1934. Here Sutton learnt the then novel technique of electron diffraction in the measurement of molecular structure, which became his principal programme of study on his return to Oxford.
In 1936 Sutton became a Tutorial Fellow of Magdalen, in which patrician surroundings he spent the rest of his career, retiring and being elected Fellow Emeritus in 1973 after nearly forty years as a much respected tutor and supervisor. Apart from many collaborative papers, his principal contribution was as Scientific Editor of the compilation Tables of Interatomic Distances in Molecules and Ions, published in 1958 and still in use.
Sutton was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1950. He was awarded the Meldola Medal (1932), the Harrison Memorial Prize (1935), and the Tilden Lectureship (1940). He died from heart failure in 1992.
Section A: Biographical and Autobiographical [MS. Eng. c. 5789]
Section B: Notebooks [MSS. Eng. d. 2851-2863, e. 3006-3007]
Section C: Notes, Drafts and Publications [MSS. Eng. c. 5790-5792]
Section D: Oxford University Laboratories [MSS. Eng. c. 5793-5794]
Section E: Lectures
Section F: Correspondence [MS. Eng. c. 5797]
The material was collected from the Department of Chemical Crystallography, Oxford University, where Sutton had a retirement office.
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Sutton | Leslie Ernest | 1906-1992 | Chemist
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