Tony Barrett 1938-2012

23 November 2012

Tony Barrett died on 7 October 2012, aged 73. He worked in NIMR's Computer Laboratory for 12 years, specialising in the mathematical analysis of biological research problems.

Anthony N. (Tony) Barrett was born on 25 October 1938. He attended school and technical college in Northampton and later gained a Maths degree at Chelsea College of Science & Technology. He then moved to Birkbeck College in October 1964, as an MRC scholar, and registered as a PhD student in the Department of Crystallography, with Dr C H Carlisle as his supervisor. His PhD work was on the application of mathematical methods in the X-ray crystallographic analysis of molecular structures. Tony worked with Rex Palmer on the crystal structure of pyridoxal phosphate oxime using the newly devised, highly mathematically formulated, Direct Phasing Methods. He eventually succeeded in solving the structure, the first by direct methods in the department, and for this gained his PhD in 1968 with future Nobel Prize winner Sir Aaron Klug as external examiner. His first paper (Barrett AN and Palmer RA, Acta Crystallogr B25:688-95) appeared in 1969.

He undertook postdoctoral appointments from 1967 to 1970 at MIT Boston, Columbia University, and Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg where he worked with Ken Holmes, working on new methods of phase determination for large molecular structures. His papers on the use of the Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) were amongst the first to alert the crystallographic community to this method, which is still in general use, and cuts down the time for calculation of Fourier maps by a significant factor. In 1970 Tony became head of the Programming and Methods Group in the Experimental Cartography Unit at the Royal College of Art, where he continued to develop techniques using Fourier transforms for improved contouring techniques in maps.

In 1974 he joined the Computer Science Group in NIMR’s Engineering Division, maintaining his emphasis on using mathematical methods to process image data, to give better resolution and better biological information. He worked particularly on electron micrographs, for example of bacterial cell wall structure, yeast pyruvate carboxylase tetramers, and the enzyme carbonic anhydrase. Later he also worked on modelling biological events, such as amphibian middle ear dynamics, and the growth patterns of chick wing buds.

Tony’s work was recognised in 1978 when he was given an MRC unlimited appointment. In 1980 the Computer Science Group moved out of the Engineering Division and became the new Computer Laboratory under Monica Jordan. She recommended his work saying:

Tony’s strength is his ability to communicate very effectively with scientists and to translate their problems into a form which is suitable for [computer analysis].

During his career at NIMR he worked with biophysicists, electron microscopists, neurophysiologists, developmental biologists, molecular pharmacologists, parasitologists and microbiologists.

Tony left NIMR in 1986, joining Brunel University as a Lecturer in Computer Science and Research Fellow in the Department of Mathematics where he continued to work on image enhancing techniques. He became an Honorary Fellow of the University in 2006 following his retirement.

The technique of image enhancement, which Tony worked on for so long, has now become highly sophisticated and enjoys a multitude of everyday applications. It is safe to say that Tony made significant contributions to this important area of science.

Rex Palmer, Reader Emeritus, Birkbeck College, London

Tony Barrett started his career as a professional jazz trumpeter who made recordings for the BBC and worked with several of the UK's leading Jazz musicians, including Dudley Moore. Of late Tony took to arranging classic jazz pieces for the electronic keyboard and made several CD recordings which make very good listening. He also enjoyed shooting, squash, badminton and golf. Sadly he became ill a few months ago and had a major operation in August from which he did not recover. He died peacefully on the morning of Sunday 7th October 2012.

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Tony Barrett, ca. 1975

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