Nevill Francis Mott

Sir Nevill Francis Mott CH FRS (30 September 1905 – 8 August 1996) was a British physicist who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1977 for his work on the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems, especially amorphous semiconductors. The award was shared with Philip W. Anderson and J. H. Van Vleck. The three had conducted loosely related research. Mott and Anderson clarified the reasons why magnetic or amorphous materials can sometimes be metallic and sometimes insulating.[1][2][3][4][5]

Sir Nevill Mott
Sir Nevill Francis Mott
Nevill Francis Mott

30 September 1905
Leeds, England
Died8 August 1996 (aged 90)
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England
NationalityUnited Kingdom
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge
Known for
Scientific career
Doctoral advisorR.H. Fowler

Education and early life

Mott was born in Leeds to Lilian Mary Reynolds and Charles Francis Mott and grew up first in the village of Giggleswick, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, where his father was Senior Science Master at Giggleswick School. His mother also taught Maths at the School. The family moved (due to his father's jobs) first to Staffordshire, then to Chester and finally Liverpool, where his father had been appointed Director of Education. Mott was at first educated at home by his mother, who was a Cambridge Mathematics Tripos graduate. His parents had met in the Cavendish Laboratory, when both were engaged in physics research. At age ten, he began formal education at Clifton College in Bristol, then at St John's College, Cambridge, where he read the Mathematics Tripos.

Career and research

Mott was appointed a Lecturer in the Physics Department at the University of Manchester in 1929. He returned to Cambridge in 1930 as a Fellow and lecturer of Gonville and Caius College, and in 1933 moved to the University of Bristol as Melville Wills Professor in Theoretical Physics.

In 1948 he became Henry Overton Wills Professor of Physics and Director of the Henry Herbert Wills Physical Laboratory at Bristol. In 1954 he was appointed Cavendish Professor of Physics at Cambridge, a post he held until 1971. He was instrumental in the painful cancellation of the planned particle accelerator because of its very high cost. He also served as Master of Gonville and Caius College, 1959–1966.

His early works were on the theoretical analysis of collisions in gases, notably the collision with spin flip of an electron against a hydrogen atom, which would stimulate subsequent works by André Blandin and Jun Kondo about similar effects between conduction electrons, as well as magnetic properties in metals. This sort of activity led Mott to writing two books. The first one, which was edited together with Ian Sneddon, gives a simple and clear description of quantum mechanics, with an emphasis on the Schrödinger equation in real space. The second describes atomic and electronic collisions in gases, using the rotational symmetry of electronic states in the Hartree–Fock method.

But already in the middle of the 1930s, Mott's interests had broadened to include solid states, leading to two more books that would have a great impact on the development of the field in the years prior and after World War II. In 1936, Theory of the Properties of Metals and Alloys (written together with H. Jones) describes a simplified framework which led to rapid progresses.

The concept of nearly free valence electrons in metallic alloys explained the special stability of the Hume-Rothery phases if the Fermi sphere of the sp Valence electron, treated as free, would be scattered by the Brillouin zone boundaries of the atomic structure. The description of the impurities in metals by the Thomas Fermi approximation would explain why such impurities would not interact at long range. Finally the delocalisation of the valence d electrons in transitional metals and alloys would explain the possibility for the magnetic moments of atoms to be expressed as fractions of Bohr magnetons, leading to ferro or antiferromagnetic coupling at short range. This last contribution, produced at the first international conference on magnetism, held in Strasbourg in May 1939, reinforced similar points of view defended at the time in France by the future Nobel laureate Louis Néel. In 1949, Mott suggested to Jacques Friedel to use the approach developed together with Marvey for a more accurate description of the electric-field screening of the impurity in a metal, leading to the characteristic long range charge oscillations. Friedel also used the concept developed in that book of virtual bound level to describe a situation when the atomic potential considered is not quite strong enough to create a (real) bound level of symmetry e ≠ o. The consequences of these remarks on the more exact approaches of cohesion in rp as well as d metals were mostly developed by his students in Orsay.

The second book, with Ronald Wilfred Gurney, On the Physical Chemistry of Solids was more diverse. It treated notably of the oxidation of metals at low temperatures, where it described the growth of the oxide layer as due to the electric field developed between the metal and absorbed oxygen ions, which could force the way of metallic or oxygen ions through a disordered oxide layer. The book also analysed the photographic reactions in ionic silver compound in terms of precipitation of silver ions into metallic clusters.

This second field had a direct and long lasting consequence on the research activity of John (Jack) Mitchell. Mott's accomplishments include explaining theoretically the effect of light on a photographic emulsion (see latent image). His work on oxidation, besides fostering new research in the field (notably by J. Bénard and Nicolás Cabrera), was the root of the concept of the band gap produced in semiconductors by gradients in the distribution of donor and acceptor impurities.

When Mott returned to Bristol after the war, (during that period, he worked on the role of plastic deformation on the progression of fracture cracks), his having met and hired of Frederick Charles Frank led both of them to develop, with the help of others such as Frank Nabarro and Alan Cottrell, to attack with the field of dislocations, in which Bristol shone with a new vigor, especially at the end of the 1940s. If Mott only produced early and somewhat minor contributions to that field, notably on alloy hardening with Nabarro and on the topology of a dislocation network lowering the apparent elastic constants of a crystal, there is no doubt that Mott's enthusiasm played its role in the three major steps forward in the field by F. C. Frank on crystal growth and plasticity and later, in Cambridge, by P. Hirsch on the thin film electron microscopy.

At the same time, however, Mott started playing around electronic correlations and their possible role in Verwey's compounds such as nickel oxides which could switch from metals to insulators under various physical conditions (transition of substances from metallic to nonmetallic states (Mott transition). The term Mott insulator is also named for him, as well as the Mott polynomials, which he introduced.


N. F. Mott revived the old Philosophical Magazine and transformed it into a lively publication essentially centred on the then-new field of solid state physics, attracting writers, readers and general interest on a wide scale. After receiving a paper on point defects in crystals by Frederick Seitz that was obviously too long for Phil. Mag, Mott decided to create a new publication, Advances in Physics for such review papers. Both publications are still active in 2017.

  • N. F. Mott, "The Wave Mechanics of α-Ray Tracks", Proceedings of the Royal Society (1929) A126, pp. 79–84, doi:10.1098/rspa.1929.0205. (reprinted as Sec.I-6 of Quantum Theory and Measurement, J. A. Wheeler. and W. H. Zurek, (1983) Princeton).
  • N. F. Mott, Metal-Insulator Transitions, second edition (Taylor & Francis, London, 1990). ISBN 0-85066-783-6, ISBN 978-0-85066-783-7
  • N. F. Mott, A Life in Science (Taylor & Francis, London, 1986). ISBN 0-85066-333-4, ISBN 978-0-85066-333-4
  • N. F. Mott, H. Jones, The Theory of Properties of Metals and Alloys, (Dover Publications Inc., New York, 1958)
  • Brian Pippard, Nevill Francis Mott, Physics Today, March 1997, pp. 95 and 96: (pdf).

Awards and honours

In 1977, Nevill Mott was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, together with Philip Warren Anderson and John Hasbrouck Van Vleck "for their fundamental theoretical investigations of the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems." The news of having won the Nobel Prize received Mott while having lunch at restaurant Die Sonne in Marburg, Germany, during a visit to fellow solid state scientist at Marburg University.[6]

Mott was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1936.[7] Mott served as president of the Physical Society in 1957. In the early 1960s he was chairman of the British Pugwash group. He was knighted in 1962.[8]

Mott received an honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 1972.[9]

In 1981, Mott became a founding member of the World Cultural Council.[10]

He continued to work until he was about ninety. He was made a Companion of Honour in 1995.[11]

In 1995, Mott visited the Loughborough University Department of Physics and presented a lecture entitled "65 Years in Physics". The University continues to host the annual Sir Nevill Mott Lecture.[12]

Personal life

Mott was married to Ruth Eleanor Horder, and had two daughters, Elizabeth and Alice. He died in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. His autobiography, A Life in Science, was published in 1986 by Taylor & Francis.[13]


  1. ^ BBC video of Mott interviewed by Lewis Wolpert in 1985 (accessed 8 October 2010)
  2. ^ Nobel lecture (PDF)
  3. ^ Sir Nevill Francis Mott
  4. ^ Mott's memories University of Bristol (accessed Jan 2006)
  5. ^ National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists Archived 31 January 2006 at the Wayback Machine Bath University
  6. ^ E. A. Davis (2002). Nevill Mott: Reminiscences And Appreciations. Taylor & Francis. p. 269. ISBN 0-203-48439-8.
  7. ^ Pippard, B. (1998). "Sir Nevill Francis Mott, C. H. 30 September 1905 – 8 August 1996". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 44: 315. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1998.0021.
  8. ^ "New Year Honours List" (PDF). Nature. 193 (4810): 17. 6 January 1962. Bibcode:1962Natur.193Q..17.. doi:10.1038/193017a0. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  9. ^ "Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh: Honorary Graduates". Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  10. ^ "About Us". World Cultural Council. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
  11. ^ "1977: Nevill Francis Mott (1905–1996) | St John's College, Cambridge". St John. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  12. ^ "Sir Nevill Mott Lecture Series". Loughborough University. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  13. ^
Academic offices
Preceded by
Sir James Chadwick
Master of Gonville and Caius College
Succeeded by
Joseph Needham
Cavendish Laboratory

The Cavendish Laboratory is the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge, and is part of the School of Physical Sciences. The laboratory was opened in 1874 on the New Museums Site as a laboratory for experimental physics and is named after the British chemist and physicist Henry Cavendish. The laboratory has had a huge influence on research in the disciplines of physics and biology.

The laboratory moved to its present site in West Cambridge in 1974.

As of 2011, 29 Cavendish researchers have won Nobel Prizes. Notable discoveries to have occurred at the Cavendish Laboratory include the discovery of the electron, neutron, and structure of DNA.

Cavendish Professor of Physics

The Cavendish Professorship is one of the senior faculty positions in physics at the University of Cambridge. It was founded on 9 February 1871 alongside the famous Cavendish Laboratory, which was completed three years later. William Cavendish, 7th Duke of Devonshire endowed both the professorship and laboratory in honor of his relative, chemist and physicist Henry Cavendish.

Charles Francis Mott

Charles Francis Mott (1877–1967) the son of Charles Henry Blackshaw Mott was an English physicist and educator, and the father of Nobel laureate Nevill Francis Mott.

In 1901 while at the Cavendish Laboratory he attempted to investigate the field effect following a suggestion from J. J. Thomson. He married Lilian Mary Reynolds, also a researcher at the Cavendish lab.By 1905 he was the Senior Science Master at Giggleswick School. His wife also taught mathematics there.

From 1922-1945 Mott served as Director of Education in Liverpool. C.F.Mott Teachers' Training College was named after him.

Contemporary Physics

Contemporary Physics is a peer-reviewed scientific journal publishing introductory articles on important recent developments in physics.

Editorial screening and peer review is carried out by members of the editorial board.

Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf

Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf (February 15, 1922 – March 25, 2010) was a German metallurgist.


Giggleswick is a village and civil parish in the Craven district of North Yorkshire, England. It is situated on the B6480 road, less than 1 mile (1.6 km) north-west of the town of Settle and separated from it by the River Ribble. It is the site of Giggleswick School.

Jacques Friedel

Jacques Friedel ForMemRS (French: [fʁidɛl]; 11 February 1921 – 27 August 2014) was a French physicist and material scientist.

Jan H van der Merwe

Johannes Hendrick van der Merwe was a South African mathematician and physicist. The Frank-Van der Merwe crystal growth model carries his name and he was awarded numerous South African academic prizes. He is sometimes referred to as the "Father of Epitaxy". His research is seen as fundamental to applications in communication technology.

Keith Burton

Dr William Keith Burton FRSE (12 October 1922 – 30 December 1996) was English electrical engineer and theoretical physicist notable, according to American physical chemist Robert Alberty, for the publication of his 1957 thermodynamics tables, the first-ever free energy tables for biochemical reactions.

List of Fellows of the Royal Society elected in 1936

Fellows of the Royal Society elected in 1936.

List of Masters of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

See also Template:Gonville and Caius Masters.

Mott problem

In quantum mechanics, the Mott problem is a paradox that illustrates some of the difficulties of understanding the nature of wave function collapse and measurement in quantum mechanics. The problem was first formulated in 1929 by Sir Nevill Francis Mott and Werner Heisenberg, illustrating the paradox of the collapse of a spherically symmetric wave function into the linear tracks seen in a cloud chamber.In practice, virtually all high energy physics experiments, such as those conducted at particle colliders, involve wave functions which are inherently spherical. Yet, when the results of a particle collision are detected, they are invariably in the form of linear tracks (see, for example, the illustrations accompanying the article on bubble chambers). It is somewhat strange to think that a spherically symmetric wave function should be observed as a straight track, and yet, this occurs on a daily basis in all particle collider experiments.

A related variant formulation was given in 1953 by Mauritius Renninger, and is now known as Renninger's negative-result gedanken experiment. In this formulation, it is noted that the absence of a particle detection can also constitute a quantum measurement; namely, that a measurement can be performed even if no particle whatsoever is detected.

Robert Wichard Pohl

Robert Wichard Pohl (10 August 1884 – 5 June 1976) was a German physicist at the University of Göttingen. Nevill Francis Mott described him as the "father of solid state physics".

Rutherford Memorial Lecture (Royal Society)

The Rutherford Memorial Lecture is an international lecture of the Royal Society created under the Rutherford Memorial Scheme in 1952. It is held at universities in various countries in the Commonwealth, with a stipulation that at least one of every three lectures must be held in New Zealand.

School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Manchester

The School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester is one of the largest and most active Physics departments in the UK, taking around 250 new undergraduates and 50 postgraduates each year, and employing more than 80 members of academic staff and over 100 research fellows and associates. The school is based on two sites: the Schuster Laboratory on Brunswick Street and the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics in Cheshire, international headquarters of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).According to the Academic Ranking of World Universities, the school is the 9th best Physics department in the world and best in Europe. It is ranked equal 7th place in the UK by GPA according to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2014. The University has a long history of physics dating back to 1874, which includes 12 Nobel laureates, most recently Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov who were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for their discovery of graphene.

Sigurd Zienau

Sigurd Zienau (1921–1976) was a physicist notable for the theory of the polaron.

Three Physicists Prize

The Three Physicists Prize (French: Prix des trois physiciens) is a physics prize awarded by the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris and the Eugène Bloch Foundation. It is named in honour of the physicists Henri Abraham, Eugene Bloch and Georges Bruhat, who were successive directors of the physics laboratory at the ENS and all of whom died in Nazi concentration camps between 1943 and 1945. The prize was established by Bloch's widow.

University of Bristol

The University of Bristol (simply referred to as Bristol University and abbreviated as Bris. in post-nominal letters, or UoB) is a red brick research university located in Bristol, United Kingdom. It received its royal charter in 1909, although like the University of the West of England and the University of Bath, it can trace its roots to the Merchant Venturers' Technical College, founded as a school in 1595 by the Society of Merchant Venturers. Its key predecessor institution, University College, Bristol, had been in existence since 1876.Bristol is organised into six academic faculties composed of multiple schools and departments running over 200 undergraduate courses largely situated in the Tyndalls Park area of the city. The university had a total income of £642.7 million in 2017/18, of which £164.0 million was from research grants and contracts. It is the largest independent employer in Bristol.The University of Bristol is ranked 44th by the QS World University Rankings 2018, and is ranked amongst the top 10 of UK universities by QS, THE, and ARWU. A highly selective institution, it has an average of 6.4 (Sciences faculty) to 13.1 (Medicine & Dentistry Faculty) applicants for each undergraduate place. It was ranked 9th in the UK amongst multi-faculty institutions for the quality (GPA) of its research and for its Research Power in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework.Current academics include 21 fellows of the Academy of Medical Sciences, 13 fellows of the British Academy, 13 fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering and 44 fellows of the Royal Society. The university has been associated with 13 Nobel laureates throughout its history, including Paul Dirac, Sir William Ramsay, Cecil Frank Powell, Sir Winston Churchill, Dorothy Hodgkin, Hans Albrecht Bethe, Max Delbrück, Gerhard Herzberg, Sir Nevill Francis Mott, Sir Paul Nurse, Harold Pinter, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio and most recently, 2015 Economics Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton.

Bristol is a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive British universities, the European-wide Coimbra Group and the Worldwide Universities Network, of which the university's previous vice-chancellor, Eric Thomas, was chairman from 2005 to 2007. In addition, the university holds an Erasmus Charter, sending more than 500 students per year to partner institutions in Europe.

Gonville Hall
Gonville and Caius College
Copley Medallists (1951–2000)
Founding members of the World Cultural Council

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