Nisbet | Hugh Bryan | 1902-1969 | principal of Heriot-Watt University

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

Hugh Bryan Nisbet (1902-1969), an organic chemist and principal of Heriot-Watt College, was born and brought up in Edinburgh, where he attended George Heriot's School, then studied at Heriot-Watt College, where he gained the qualifications of associate, B.Sc, Ph.D and D.Sc. He also spent a period in Graz and Vienna (Austria) studying organic chemistry with experts in the field, including Fritz Pregl, winner of the 1923 Nobel Prize for Chemistry and Herbert Feigl (1902-1988).

His scientific work, on which he based many papers, dealt mainly with pyrazoline local anaesthetics, analytical problems and investigations of pyridine bases in shale oil and coal tar. His entire academic career was spent at Heriot-Watt College. He held a number of positions within the department of chemistry, rising to become professor in 1946. He was appointed principal on James Cameron Smail's (1880-1970) retirement in 1950.

As principal, he continued the expansion policy of his predecessor, which had been suspended during the war years. The reforms of the college led to it being granted university status by the government in 1966, the year of his departure from the principal's post. When the college became Heriot-Watt University, Nisbet became vice-chancellor, a position he held only for a short while before retiring in 1967.



Other Significant Information

Notable publications:


Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

1921: Appointed Demonstrator in Chemistry, Heriot-Watt College

1924-1946: Appointed Lecturer in Applied Chemistry, Heriot-Watt College

1934: Awarded Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) degree, Heriot-Watt College and the University of Edinburgh

1940: Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh

1946-1950: Appointed Professor of Chemistry, Heriot-Watt College

1950-1966: Appointed Principal of Heriot-Watt College

1955-1958: Elected Vice-President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh

1963: Awarded Commander of the order of the British Empire (CBE)

1964: Appointed Vice-Chairman, Scottish Technical Education Consultative Council

1964: Awarded Royal Norwegian Order of St Olav

1966-1967: Appointed Vice-Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University


List of sources for the biographical information:

Open University, Department of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Biographical Database of British Chemists, (, The Open University, 2000)

Year Book of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1971-1972, Sessions 1969-1971, (Edinburgh, Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1972)

Who's Who 1968-1969, New York, St Martin's Press, 1967)