Cymru Culture

Articles / Erthyglau

Scientists of Wales: Elwyn Hughes

(September 01, 2016)


Dr Elwyn Hughes (1928-2015)

Elwyn Hughes

Richard Elwyn Hughes was born on October 18th, 1928 in the village of Rhaeadr, Powys. His family upbringing was entirely in English, as was his primary education in the local school and also in Llandrindod High School. In the latter he received some lessons in Welsh at lunchtimes, which must have been highly influential, because, in due time, he became eloquently fluent in the spoken and written forms of the language. In addition he became a wholly committed supporter of several movements to promote Welsh in all aspects of life.

From school he won a place at St. Catharines's College in Cambridge University, not long after being rejected by the University of Wales in Aberystwyth. His undergraduate studies were in biological sciences. After graduating and beginning research, he spent a period in the Royal Air Force in St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan, before returning to Cambridge to complete his research and gain his Ph.D.

By this time he was married to Ceridwen, with thoughts on raising a family. Both were determined that their children should have their education through Welsh, so they looked for employment opportunities in Wales. For Elwyn this came in the form of a position in the laboratory of the Royal Infirmary in Cardiff. After a few years he took up a lectureship in biology at the Welsh College of Advanced Technology, which is now part of Cardiff University.

L-ascorbic acid moleculeL-ascorbic acid molecule

It was here that he developed his specialist interest in nutrition. His name will always be associated with asorbic acid (vitamin C). His findings and ideas about how the vitamin operates in the human body were published in a host of papers in academic journals of high repute. The distinction of his work was recognised in his election as a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London. It is no idle speculation that he played a big part in ensuring that the pioneering work of Edward Smith in nutrition in 1863 received deserved recognition. Not least of Hughes' achievements was the clarification of the relationship between sustenance and health, notably in connection with sugar. His book Dysgl Bren a Dysgl Arian is a treasure, in that it gives the history of food in Wales incorporating scientific and sociological aspects.

Another of his accomplishments was in calling attention to the part played by Alfred Russel Wallace in the development of the theory of evolution, which is usually associated with Charles Darwin. Relatively few people, even today, know that the first academic paper on evolution was jointly authored by Darwin and Wallace. Elwyn had made a detailed study of the career of Wallace; perhaps his interest was prompted by two aspects, namely, that Wallace had spent time working in Rhaeadr where Elwyn was born, and that Elwyn considered Wallace a fellow Welshman, since he had been born in Usk, advocated Welsh 'Home Rule' and had shown a commitment to learn Welsh. Both sought to consider associations between science studies of local communities and their cultural characteristics. Elwyn's book Nid am un Harddwch Iaith is a distinguished study of science prose in Welsh in the 19th century. Perhaps the most insightful treatise about Wallace is Elwyn's Y Gwyddononydd Anwyddonol (The Unscientific Scientist).

Throughout his life Hughes lent support to many organisations that promoted the use of Welsh in all aspects of life in Wales. For his commitment to Welsh in science in 2005 he was awarded the Science and Technology Medal of the National Eisteddfod. He rejoiced in the successes he had observed down the years in the use of Welsh in education, politics and culture in a wide sense. But he was not complacent and to the last warned others that there remained a lot more to do.

Dr Elwyn Hughes died in Cardiff on November 30th, 2015.

Neville Evans, September 2016

If you enjoyed this, you'll also enjoy these by Dr Neville Evans, in his series Scientists of Wales:

     ERH Jones; December 2016
Elwyn Hughes
; September 2016
Gareth Roberts
; June 2016
Ezer Griffiths; March 2016

Handel Davies; December 2015
Mathematicians of Wales; September 2015

Professor Eleri Pryce; June 2015

William Robert Grove; March 2015

Frank Llewellyn-Jones; December 2014

Professor Julie Williams; September 2014

Ieuan Maddock, F.R.S.; June 2014

John Houghton, F.R.S.; March 2014

David Brunt, F.R.S.; December 2013

Professor John Beynon; September 2013

John Meurig Thomas; June 2013
Robert Recorde and William Jones; March 2013
Richard Tecwyn Williams, F.R.S; December 2012

Lyn Evans; September 2012
E G Bowen; June 2012


cylchgrawn Cymru Culture magazine
Published by/Cyhoeddwyd gan:
Caregos Cyf., 2016


Click here to return to the Articles - Erthyglau page

Powered by Create