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Following degrees (BSc and PhD) at Edinburgh University, David Cole-Hamilton worked with Nobel Laureate Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson at Imperial College, where he developed a strong interest in organometallic chemistry and homogeneous catalysis. He moved from Liverpool University (Lecturer and Senior Lecturer) to be Professor of Chemistry at the University of St. Andrews in 1985 (Emeritus, 2014).
He has won several prizes from the Royal Society of Chemistry as well as 5 prizes for teaching. In 2017 he was awarded the Alwin Mittasch Prize of the German Catalysis Society and was made a Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, but resigned in 2022 as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
As a past President (2013-2017) of the European Chemical Society (EuChemS),he led a team celebrating the International Year of the Periodic Table, which developed the new version of the Periodic Table.