Date of Birth: 27th Nov 1927
ANTIBIOTIC: a chemical substance, often from a natural source, which is used to treat diseases by killing specific bacteria
BAUXITE: the major ingredient in making aluminium. Although useful, the mining of bauxite produces waste materials that can harm the environment
BIOFUEL: solid, liquid, or gaseous fuel made from the remains of recently-dead living matter
ESSENTIAL OILS: volatile, aromatic, and highly concentrated liquids derived from shrubs, flowers, trees, roots, bushes, herbs, and seeds, and usually used either for their healing properties or in the manufacture of perfumes ans artificial flowers
ORGANIC CHEMISTRY: the study of chemical substances with molecules that are made up mostly of carbon atoms
Kenneth Magnus developed his love for science during childhood visits to Navy Island, Jamaica, where he explored, rowed, swam, and caught small sea creatures.
Caribbean Icons in STI Volume 2
Professor Emeritus Kenneth Magnus contributed greatly to the Faculty of Natural Sciences at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, Jamaica. He undertook myriad research studies and pioneered important teaching programmes and initiatives across the region. He authored and co-authored four books, including one on the development of science in Jamaica.
Born on 27th November, 1927 in Vineyard Town, Jamaica, Kenneth Magnus attended Titchfield Primary School in Port Antonio and was a scholarship student at Wolmer’s Boys High School. After working briefly as a Laboratory Assistant at the Agricultural Chemistry Laboratory, he completed his Bachelor of Science (BSc) (General) and his Master of Science (MSc) in Organic Chemistry at the University College of the West Indies (UCWI), later renamed UWI. In 1959, he received his Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Organic Chemistry from the University of London. Dr Magnus and Professor Cedric Hassall synthesised the antibiotic called Monamycin, which was named after the Mona Campus and which Magnus patented in Canada, Germany and the UK.
In 1959, Dr Magnus joined the Department of Chemistry at UWI, Mona. He conducted research on essential oils, food flavouring, sweeteners, sugar cane processing, food preservation, and local medicinal plants, discovering that some “traditional cures” were actually poisonous! He studied bauxite manufacture and the environmentally unsafe red mud residue from that process. His many reports included a 1984 preliminary study on converting biomass to fuel.
Dr Magnus was an outstanding educator and administrator. In 1968, he started the Applied Chemistry Programme, which became a separate degree at the Mona and St. Augustine Campuses. Between 1969 and 1970, he helped develop the science curriculum for Jamaica’s primary and secondary schools. He introduced the postgraduate Diploma in Sugar Cane Processing, which attracted Caribbean and non-Caribbean students. In 1982, he led the introduction of food chemistry courses.
He headed the Department of Chemistry from 1977 to 1986, and became Professor in 1987. He served as Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences from 1985 to 1993, introducing courses in environmental studies, establishing faculty awards for outstanding students, and initiating computerisation. His impact on the Faculty’s approach to teaching led to its renaming as the Faculty of Pure and Applied Sciences. Professor Magnus fostered the Faculty’s relationship with industry, which has since been formalised through the Mona Institute of Applied Sciences. He also increased access to university education by facilitating the completion of the UWI first-year science programme at colleges in the Eastern Caribbean.
On his retirement in 1996, he became Professor Emeritus. In 2007, the university renamed the Applied Chemistry Teaching and Research Laboratory of the Mona Campus, The Kenneth Magnus Building in “recognition of his significant contributions.”
Professor Magnus advises aspiring scientists to do science only if they really want to, not because of external pressures. He adds that they should decide early what aspect of science interest them most and do it to the best of their ability.