Dennis Jones



I was surprised and honoured to be asked by Francisca to compile a short ditty about myself for the Bio page. I hereby suggest you get yourself a glass of wine (or beer) and some popcorn (other nutritionally inadequate snacks are also available), put your feet up, get comfy and start reading!
Here goes!

In the beginning…

Nigh on 2 score and 14 years ago, a small bundle of joy popped into this world to David and Heather Jones, courtesy of the nice midwifery department in Neath General Hospital in South Wales on 24 October 1966. Life in the early days was quiet and peaceful – more peaceful than many others as I was an only child. Years came and went as I grew up in the suburbs on my hometown. My first few years were in Briton Ferry – a town associated with early industrial development, including the first production of reinforced concrete by Louis Gustave Mouchel in 1875 and the first production of, as well as the first man-made mineral fibre (Rockwool to you and me) by Edward Parry, but as reported at that time “no effort appears to have been made to confine the wool after production; consequently it floated about the works with the slightest breeze, and became so injurious to the men that the process had to be abandoned”…. hence Edward Parry invented mineral silicosis in 1840… but I digress! Back to bio…

Most of my childhood was spent in Cimla, up on the hillside with some amazing woodland surrounding it, so most summer (and many winter) days were spent from dawn till dusk out in the countryside… ah the days before Nintendo! The Gnoll woodland is home to the “Hollow Tree”, which was selected as Welsh Tree of the Year in 2017.

I enjoyed my schooldays (at the difficult to pronounce Crynallt school and even more tongue-twistingly difficult Ysgol Gyfun Cefn Saeson), doing well academically and in sports (playing football – that’s soccer to our US friends, rugby, cricket and athletics – in athletics I was year champion at Cefn Saeson in the long jump (jumping 5.4 metres at the age of 14, triple jump (13.2 metres at the same age) and 100 metres (yes in those days I could run quite fast, but can’t remember the times!)

Eventually I moved onto university, to study what was my favourite subject at the time – chemistry. Three good years were spent at Swansea University (so I did not wander that far from home – handy for weekend clothes washing trips and stealing food from parents’ cupboards!), but also allowing me to continue watching my home town rugby team. My sports participation had by this stage moved indoors – playing badminton and squash to keep moderately fit – as well as the extremely violent game of chess (and yes it is violent, I have witnessed a team member threatening to throw an opponent out of a 6th floor window!).
After gaining my BSc, I immediately began work at the organic chemistry department on a failed research project, which after 5 months of work, led to the first crystalline version of an artificial sweetener (now marketed as Splenda), for which I was offered a PhD position. These postgraduate years also led to the demise of most sports activities, resulting from an injury playing cricket, when I tore my hamstring… leaving me with chess and a newly found activity in darts!

All change!!

On completing my PhD in 1992, it was a case of what next, made slightly easier by a post-doctoral position in mass spectrometry in an adjoining department to the chemistry department. That focussed on using ion mobility spectrometry as a detector, something that we globe-trotters are all aware of with some of the swab detectors at airports. Once that was completed, I felt ready to take on the world – the result: 6 months searching for a job, which eventually led to 2 offers on the same day. One was on the analysis of colour in butter, the other was from Professor Bart Banks to come and re-establish a wood science research group in Bangor University with a newly appointed lecturer, someone by the name of Callum Hill. So the two of us met for the first time on October 1st, 1994 in Lab 9 of the Robinson Building in Bangor – a building frequented previously by Phil Evans among others. The first few weeks were spent cleaning out what seemed like several decades of unknown samples – many of which were surely banned. Then the work began. A whole new world of wood science and technology.

Itchy feet

Three very productive years with Callum were subsequently followed by a short walk up the road to the Biocomposites Centre and a range of activities. However, after a year I was faced with a choice, short term contracts, or a new challenge in Denmark. So, I packed my bags and set off for Lyngby (Danish Technological University) for 3 years investigating hygrothermal treatments of wood and plant fibres. This was followed by two years in Wageningen in The Netherlands, during which time my first daughter was born (which was a logistical nightmare, as we were a British couple, married in Denmark, having a child in Netherlands – the Dutch authorities did not recognise our marriage, so I was not officially recognised as the father. This meant I had to send the marriage certificate back to the city hall in Copenhagen, where it was stamped, then onto the UK consulate in Copenhagen, where they stamped it, it then went to the Dutch consulate, they stamped it, and sent it back to me to take to the local police in Wageningen… and yes they stamped it. I could then go to the registry office and add my name as father on the birth certificate. All this had to be done within 14 days, along with registering the birth at the UK embassy in Amsterdam, where more documents were stamped!). After 2 great years with SHR, we headed back to the UK, having not mastered Dutch as a language (despite Holger Militz saying “its easy, I learnt it in 3 months”….. it was when I noted the similarity between German and Dutch, I understood why he had learnt it so quick.

It was also in this time with SHR I was introduced to the IRG family.. Contacts with many European members had already been made through COST (Cooperation in Science and Technology) and the European Thematic Network on Wood Modification (which I managed for SHR during my time there, leading to the European Conferences on Wood Modification). However in January 2002, my line manager at that time, Waldemar Homan, asked me “would you like to go to IRG this year?”. Having heard about the previous 2 years in Hawaii and Nara, naturally I said “YES, where is it?”…. to be told “Cardiff, Wales”!! It was good, almost a kind of homecoming, and partly led to my next move, back to the UK with BRE, with time at their Garston site and at several Welsh offices in my role as project officer for WoodKnowledge Wales (including some time back in Bangor). Eventually funding opportunities ground to a halt there, and after working as a self-employed consultant for several months, I contacted Finn Englund at what was then SP about a job advertised, that position lasted for nearly 5 years. 

The “Swedish blip”!

It was during my time at SP (which became RISE just before I left) that I became even more active in European and international activities. I became Vice Chair of COST FP0904. SP then agreed to my writing a few more… first one on the use of nanocellulose (FP1205) and then one of Performance of Bio-Based Building Materials (FP1303). During the evaluation of FP1303, the COST Committee asked me “Why is there no mention of fire?”, to which I answered “Funny you should ask that, that’s our next application”. It sure was and that too was also funded. So, SP were running three COST Actions, which led to a geographical imbalance in the spread of EU countries running current activities, which led to one COST Officer referring to me directly as the “Swedish blip”. Since those times, I also assisted Andreja Kutnar at InnoRenew with her COST Action FP1407. These combined with several ECWM conferences and IRG conferences, have helped me see the need to promote wood science R&D to the students and getting them more involved in building for our future.

Can I go further north??

After my time with SP/RISE, I spent a few months working again as a subcontractor via my consultancy company (DJ Timber Consultancy – I would say look me up, but I have not got a website!). But through contacts, and COST FP1407, I have found myself back in Sweden, albeit a bit further north, in Skellefteå, working at Luleå University of Technology (LTU), where I am currently affiliated as an Associate Professor, with links to many groups across Europe and being fortunate to have many colleagues I can class as friends world-wide. Recently I have also been added to IRG Communications Committee – hope I can continue to help out there.

And me personally?

Somehow in between work, there have been a few moments spare. Married, two girls (aged 19 and 17), divorced, passionate about rugby (only watching since that cricket injury stopped all sport), retired from darts (team disbanded), retired from chess (never had time and not good enough to take part when the team travelled to Europe on several occasions to play in the European Club Cup). From the pictures above, there seems to be a theme recurring… yes I am a member of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in the UK, so enjoy an interesting beer now and then (but not Rodenbach Professor Van Acker!), though lost most of my collection of interesting beer glasses (had about 60 from Belgium) when I got divorced – some lucky person at a flea market found themselves a bargain! Much to the dismay of the book shelves and cupboards in my house I am a fanatical stamp collector with around 30 stock books jam packed and about a further 100,000 loose stamps sitting in bags and boxes – with individual values ranging from a few pennies to a whole bunch more… Part of a retirement plan I keep telling myself. But why retire when you are having so much fun, especially with the friends in IRG!

Hoping things get better on a global level and we can meet again in Numazu City for IRG52. For some fun, ask me about Swedish ID cards!! In the meantime, keep in touch with one another, stay safe, and I hope you did not choke too much on the popcorn!

PS: To see if you identified Dennis correctly in the School photo Click Here


This bio was written for the October 2020 IRG Newsletter.