Tribute to Professor Martin Williams

News published: 02/10/2020

Martin was a longstanding and much valued member of the Defra Air Quality Expert Group (AQEG), joining via public appointment in 2013. He had also served as a member of the secretariat of the group during his time working in Defra. AQEG is an independent advisory group that responds to requests from government for evidence on the latest science relating to air pollution. Martin brought a unique perspective to AQEG, being an expert physical scientist by training, but with knowledge and experience that spanned much wider from policy and regulation through to global public health. Martin understood intuitively where the nub of the issue lay for policymakers and regulators, and where the latest science could, and equally importantly could not, help out. He wielded impressive cognitive powers during meetings. Given only the back of an envelope to work with he would calculate with frightening accuracy dispersion in Gaussian plumes, annualised amounts of emissions, personal exposures and more. Scientific advisory groups can, left to their own devices, navel gaze and obsess on detail; Martin however always saw the bigger picture, he understood the wider context and worked always to make sure reports and advice were practical and applicable. He kept us honest, making sure we answered the exam questions that had been set by Defra. When challenged with summarising key points for policymakers from often very lengthy and complex reports Martin was the go-to person for help. His insight and skill in capturing complex issues in a clear and concise manner, without dumbing down or losing meaning, was invaluable. Of value was always the international context that he brought to the table garnered from chairing and leading many international science-policy efforts. The AQEG reports that Martin either was the lead writer or contributor to are too numerous to list here, but in combination form a body of work, that when set alongside his other outputs from his time at Kings, comprise a major scientific and policy-influencing legacy. His wisdom, good humour, and incisive mind will mean his absence from AQEG will be keenly felt by all. We are sure we speak for all who have served on AQEG with Martin that his loss leaves a gaping hole in air pollution science in the UK. We pass on our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.

Prof Alastair Lewis (Chair, AQEG 2019-present) and Prof Paul Monks (Chair, AQEG 2009- 2019)

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