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Dame Kathleen Lonsdale
Dame Kathleen Lonsdale
Robert Hanbury Brown (right) at the Narrabri Observatory, Australia
Robert Hanbury Brown (right) at the Narrabri Observatory, Australia

Internal News - 20 July 2006

Archives of 11 important scientists' work to be preserved for posterity

The archives of 11 of the UK’s most important scientists are to be preserved for posterity.

The National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists will use a new grant of £426,000 to catalogue the work of the 11 physicists and mathematicians.

The work of the Unit, based at the University of Bath, will ensure the archives, which include two pioneers of radar, can be made accessible for research.

The scientists include Sir Martin Ryle (1918-1984), who worked on radar during the War, helping develop the system that allowed British pilots to defeat the Luftwaffe. After 1945 he worked on using radio waves to investigate astronomical objects, becoming Professor of Radio Astronomy at the University of Cambridge and winning the Nobel Prize in 1974 for his pioneering work in radio astrophysics.

Another scientist whose work will be preserved is Robert Hanbury Brown (1916-2002), who was one of the most important figures in radar development, and went on to work in astronomy at the universities of Manchester and Sydney, Australia.

Two of the 11 scientists are women: Lady (Bertha Swirles) Jeffreys (1903-1999), who played a leading role in women’s education and undertook important early research into quantum physics - the science of the properties of atoms, particles and light. She was Director of Studies in Mathematics at Girton College, Cambridge.

The other is Dame Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971), who was a pioneer x-ray crystallographer at the Royal Institution and University College London. She was one of the first two women to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, in 1945.

Other scientists include Sir James Lighthill (1928-1998) who was one of the great mathematicians of the twentieth-century, pioneering new fields such as aeroacoustics, nonlinear acoustics and mathematical biofluiddynamics and becoming Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge and Provost of University College London.

The project begins in September and its funding, from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, is for three years, as part of its Resource Enhancement Scheme, which aims to improve access to research resources and materials. The Unit will recruit another archivist to its four-strong team.

The Unit’s Director, Mr Peter Harper, said: “This project offers a unique opportunity to advance understanding of the ways in which the physical and mathematical sciences have shaped the modern world.”

“Research opportunities will be opened up for historical study in areas of great current interest, such as nuclear questions, refugee scientists and women in science.”

Dr Timothy Powell, Senior Archivist, said: “The archives of Britain’s great scientists are as much a part of our national heritage as those of our poets, politicians or generals and I’m pleased that this grant will allow us to preserve and make available the work of 11 eminent physicists and mathematicians.”

Since it moved to Bath in 1987, the Unit has catalogued the archives of around 150 scientists, including Dorothy Hodgkin, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for her work on vitamin B-12 in 1964 and is Britain’s only female science laureate; and Sir Peter Scott, the distinguished naturalist.

The Unit does not keep the archives once they have been catalogued. The 11 project archives will be placed in the libraries or archives in Cambridge, London, Nottingham, Oxford and Reading.

The full list of scientists is:

E. Raymond Andrew (1921-2001). Professor of Physics at the University of Nottingham, he was internationally renowned for his pioneering contributions to nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and magnetic resonance imaging, which has made such an enormous contribution to medicine.

Robert Hanbury Brown (1916-2002). He was one of the most important figures in the development of radar and observational astronomy who worked with Watson-Watt at the Air Ministry Research station Bawdsey, 1936-1942 and in Washington on the American airborne radar programme. In 1949 he joined Lovell’s pioneering team at Jodrell Bank. He was Professor of Radio Astronomy at the University of Manchester and Professor of Astronomy at the University of Sydney.

Albrecht Fröhlich (1916-2001). A refugee from Nazi Germany, he transformed modern algebraic number theory in Britain, becoming Professor of Mathematics at King’s College London.

Herbert Fröhlich (1905-1991). Refugee and elder brother of Albrecht, he was one of a small group of German exiles who laid the foundations of modern theoretical physics in Britain, making fundamental contributions to dielectrics, solid state physics, superconductivity and the application of concepts from theoretical physics to biological systems. He was the holder of the first Chair of Theoretical Physics at the University of Liverpool.

Lady (Bertha Swirles) Jeffreys (1903-1999). She was a pioneer woman scientist, played a leading role in women’s education in the twentieth-century and inspired students in mathematics world-wide. She undertook important research on quantum theory, particularly in its early days, working with leading researchers in the field including Born and Heisenberg. She became Director of Studies in Mathematics and Vice-Mistress, Girton College Cambridge.

Nicholas Kurti (1908-1998). He was one of a number of refugees who helped Lord Cherwell revitalise Oxford physics in the 1930s and undertook secret atomic work during the Second World War. His important research in ultralow temperature physics earned the Clarendon Laboratory the name ‘coldest spot on earth’. He was Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford.

Sir James Lighthill (1928-1998). He was one of the great mathematicians of the twentieth-century, pioneering new fields such as aeroacoustics, nonlinear acoustics and mathematical biofluiddynamics and becoming Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge and Provost of University College London.

Dame Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971). A pioneer x-ray crystallographer at the Royal Institution and University College London and one of the first two women to be elected to the Royal Society in 1945, she opened the way for other women and crystallography became an area of the physical sciences where women became prominent. She was much involved in science education and, as Quaker and pacifist, in the peace movement and Pugwash organisation.

Lord (Walter) Marshall (1932-1996) was a brilliant theoretical physicist who became director of Harwell, Chairman of the UKAEA and Chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board, and a significant public figure because of his forthright advocacy of nuclear power, his role in defeating the 1984-1985 Miners’ Strike and his involvement in controversy surrounding nuclear privatisation.

Sir William Mitchell (1925-2002). He was Professor of Physics at the University of Reading and Dr Lee’s Professor of Experimental Physics and Head of the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford, a pioneer in nuclear scattering and a champion of European scientific co-operation, including CERN.

Sir Martin Ryle (1918-1984). He worked on radar during the Second World War and after the war investigated radio waves originating from astronomical objects outside the earth, becoming Professor of Radio Astronomy at the University of Cambridge and winning the 1974 Nobel Prize for Physics for his pioneering work in radio astrophysics (with Anthony Hewish).

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