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Piers Nye obituary | Biology


My friend and mentor Piers Nye, who died at the age of 75 from pulmonary fibrosis, was a professor of physiology at Oxford University for over 40 years and a medical researcher. His lab was full of his homemade equipment, which he said was held together with “chewing gum and bits of string.” He was a talented mentor to students and junior colleagues and worked to expand access to college among underrepresented groups.

Piers was born in Perth, Scotland. His father, Leslie Nye, was an insurance executive. After Piers’ mother, Grace (née Evershed), died aged 14, he was brought up in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, by Janet, one of his three older sisters, and her husband, Ian Tait. , both general practitioners.

He attended Marlborough University, Wiltshire, but resumed his postgraduate studies at Ipswich Civic University. “Hoping to feed the world”, Piers took a degree in agriculture at Pembroke College, Oxford, graduating in 1968, and briefly researched in Swaziland, but, influenced by his respect for Janet and Ian, concluded that the research medicine would be a better use of its energies. He did a doctorate in physiology at the University of California, Davis, where he raised goats, which he completed in 1977.

Back in England the same year, Piers hitchhiked to a job interview in Bristol when, during a stopover in Oxford, he was persuaded to apply there for a position as a demonstrator at the University Physiology Laboratory (ULP ). Oxford thus became his homeland for more than 40 years, since he became lecturer at Balliol (1984-87), lecturer at the ULP (1984-91), then a scholarship holder at Balliol. In 1998, he became director of the university’s physiological sciences course, until 2011; he also taught medical students.

Piers also undertook research on the carotid body, an organ in the neck that senses chemical changes in the blood (mainly changes in oxygen levels), and on the blood vessels of the lungs, and the control of breathing during exercise.

He has mentored a wide range of biological scientists – up to 85 students personally at any one time – and organized events to broaden access to Oxford. He retired from the ULP in 2012, but continued as a lecturer and Emeritus Scholar at Balliol. In 2015, he was awarded the University of Oxford Excellence in Teaching Award.

He continued to teach and examine until the summer of 2021.

Piers had a wide range of interests beyond his work, including the blues, human rights, and liberal politics. He was good at photography and computers. Her clothes came from the local charity shop; he cut his hair. He supported his students when they flourished, but even more so when they were sick, struggling or lost.

He married Rosie Painter in 2003. She survives him and their two children, Hamish and Henry; two children, Oscar and Lisa, from a previous marriage to Mimi Maeda, which ended in divorce; his granddaughters, Ruby and Maya, and his two sisters, Janet and Harriet.