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Northern Ireland food scientist distinguished by his work in wake of Chernobyl dies on way to holiday

By Laurence White

Published 26/03/2016

Professor Jack Pearce passed away at Heathrow
Professor Jack Pearce passed away at Heathrow

A distinguished Northern Ireland food scientist has died while on his way to a holiday.

Professor Jack Pearce passed away at Heathrow airport in London. It is understood he was with his wife, Edith, and that the couple were due to fly to Miami before joining a cruise.

Before retiring, Professor Pearce was head of the Department of Food Science at Queen's from 1994 to 2002. At the same time, he was deputy chief scientific officer and head of the Food Science Division (1994-2002) and of the Agricultural and Environmental Science Division (1997-2002) of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

He also served as President of the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) from 2005-2007. During his time with the IFST, he led numerous projects to encourage new entrants into the profession and helped organise a conference to assess the supply and demand for graduates to satisfy the needs of the sector.

Professor Pearce graduated in biochemistry from the University of Liverpool in 1964, and did a PhD in microbial biochemistry.

Initially, he worked in the field of nutritional biochemistry of domestic animals before moving into human nutritional biochemistry.

He regarded his work in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 as one of the highlights of his career. As well as being responsible for monitoring a wide range of food for possible contamination from the fallout of the nuclear accident, Professor Pearce also became involved in devising measures to reduce such contamination.

This led to him being invited onto a team working on a United Nations project to develop and implement these measures in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, the countries most affected by the fallout.

He later said: "We developed an effective countermeasure to reduce contamination in milk and meat, and it was very satisfying to be involved in a project with direct benefits for the local populations".

Professor Pearce later became a chartered scientist, which he regarded as the gold standard for the profession. All scientists with the qualification are recognised as on an equal footing and all are benchmarked to the same exacting level.

Mr Pearce had a long-time interest in watercolour painting, exhibiting frequently and also selling a number of his paintings.

His main subjects were landscapes, many from holiday scenes, and animals. He was a member of the Hinds Art Group, which met regularly at Knock Methodist Centre, not far from his home in the Kings Road area of east Belfast.

In a message posted online, the group described him as a "loved and very valued member of the class". It added: "He will be remembered for his gentleness, kindness and thoughtfulness; his great sense of fun and his enthusiasm; his talent, attention to detail and his humanity and modesty".

Professor Pearce is survived by his wife, Edith, daughter Alison son Ian, and grandchildren Holly and Jake.

Funeral arrangements have yet to be confirmed.

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