Known as the professor of brewing and knighted for his services to science, Sir Geoff Palmer came from humble beginnings to revolutionise the malting industry

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Born Godfrey Henry Oliver ‘Geoff’ Palmer, Geoff is a key figure in the malting world and is the first black scientist in Europe to have received what is considered to be the ‘Nobel Prize’ of brewing in 1998, American Society of Brewing Chemists Award of Distinction. Previously, in 1989, he’d scored another first when he became the first black person to have been appointed a professor at a Scottish university, Heriot Watt, where he is Professor Emeritus of the School of Life Sciences.

Geoff was born in Jamaica in 1940 and when his mother moved to the UK in 1948, he was raised by his aunts until he joined her at the age of 15. Once classed as educationally sub-normal, he obtained a place at a north London grammar school and left with two ‘A’ levels’ in Botany and Zoology.

He found work as a lab technician before going to study Botany at Leicester University and obtaining a master’s at Nottingham University. He later earned his doctorate in, Grain Science and Technology from Heriot Watt College and Edinburgh University and began his research at the Brewing Research Foundation in 1968, where he worked on the science and technology of barley.

It was here that he discovered the ‘barley abrasion process’, which makes the malting process more efficient. This innovation was patented in 1969 and immediately used by the British brewing industry.

Geoff returned to lecture at Heriot Watt in 1977. In 1989, he published the major text book in the field titled, Cereal Science and Technology. In 1990 he travelled to Japan as Visiting Professor at Kyoto University. He has since lectured all over the world and has advised brewing companies in Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Kenya. He also secured the first export of British barley to China.

Alongside his academic work, Geoff has campaigned for most of his life for better opportunities for black and Asian students. He is also deeply interested in the legacy of slavery, especially in Scotland, where he lives, and has researched and written widely on the subject.

Geoff received an OBE from The Queen in 2003 for his accomplishments in the field of grain science. He retired in 2005 and received a knighthood in 2014 for his services to charity, human rights and science.

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