Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett, Baron Blackett OM CH FRS (18 November 1897 – 13 July 1974) was a British experimental physicist known for his work on cloud chambers, cosmic rays, and paleomagnetism, winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1948. In 1925 he became the first person to prove that radioactivity could cause the nuclear transmutation of one chemical element to another. He also made a major contribution in World War II advising on military strategy and developing operational research. His left-wing views saw an outlet in third world development and in influencing policy in the Labour Government of the 1960s.
The Lord Blackett
Patrick Blackett, ca. 1950
Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett
18 November 1897
|Died||13 July 1974 (aged 76)|
|Academic advisors||Ernest Rutherford|
|Other notable students||Ishrat Hussain Usmani|
Imdadul Haque Khan
Blackett was born in Kensington, London, the son of Arthur Stuart Blackett, a stockbroker, and his wife Caroline Maynard. His younger sister was the psychoanalyst Marion Milner. His paternal grandfather Rev. Henry Blackett, brother of Edmund Blacket the Australian architect, was for many years Vicar of Croydon. His maternal grandfather Charles Maynard was an officer in the Royal Artillery at the time of the Indian Mutiny. The Blackett family lived successively at Kensington, Kenley, Woking and Guildford, Surrey, where Blackett went to preparatory school. His main hobbies were model aeroplanes and crystal radio. When he went for interview for entrance to the Royal Naval College, Osborne, Isle of Wight, Charles Rolls had completed his cross-channel flight the previous day and Blackett who had tracked the flight on his crystal set was able to expound lengthily on the subject. He was accepted and spent two years there before moving on to Dartmouth where he was "usually head of his class".
In August 1914 on the outbreak of World War I Blackett was assigned to active service as a midshipman. He was transferred to the Cape Verde Islands on HMS Carnarvon and was present at the Battle of the Falkland Islands. He was then transferred to HMS Barham and saw much action at the Battle of Jutland. While on HMS Barham, Blackett was co-inventor of a gunnery device on which the Admiralty took out a patent. In 1916 he applied to join the RNAS but his application was refused. In October that year he became a sub-lieutenant on HMS P17 on Dover patrol, and in July 1917 he was posted to HMS Sturgeon in the Harwich Force under Admiral Tyrwhitt. Blackett was particularly concerned by the poor quality of gunnery in the force compared with that of the enemy and of his own previous experience, and started to read science textbooks. He was promoted to Lieutenant in May 1918, but had decided to leave the Navy. Then, in January 1919, the Admiralty sent the officers whose training had been interrupted by the war to the University of Cambridge for a course of general duties. On his first night at Magdalene College, Cambridge he met Kingsley Martin and Geoffrey Webb, later recalling that he had never before, in his naval training, heard intellectual conversation. Blackett was impressed by the prestigious Cavendish Laboratory, and left the Navy to study mathematics and physics at Cambridge.
After graduating from Magdalene College in 1921, Blackett spent ten years working at the Cavendish Laboratory as an experimental physicist with Ernest Rutherford and in 1923 became a fellow of King's College, Cambridge, a position he held until 1933.
Rutherford had found out that the nucleus of the nitrogen atom could be disintegrated by firing fast alpha particles into nitrogen. He asked Blackett to use a cloud chamber to find visible tracks of this disintegration, and by 1925, he had taken 23,000 photographs showing 415,000 tracks of ionized particles. Eight of these were forked, and this showed that the nitrogen atom-alpha particle combination had formed an atom of fluorine, which then disintegrated into an isotope of oxygen and a proton. Blackett published the results of his experiments in 1925.  He thus became the first person to deliberately transmute one element into another. 
Blackett spent some time in 1924–1925 at Göttingen, Germany working with James Franck on atomic spectra. In 1932, working with Giuseppe Occhialini, he devised a system of geiger counters which only took photographs when a cosmic ray particle traversed the chamber. They found 500 tracks of high energy cosmic ray particles in 700 automatic exposures. In 1933, Blackett discovered fourteen tracks which confirmed the existence of the positron and revealed the now instantly recognisable opposing spiral traces of positron/electron pair production. This work and that on annihilation radiation made him one of the first and leading experts on anti-matter.
That same year he moved to Birkbeck, University of London as Professor of Physics for four years. Then in 1937 he went to the Victoria University of Manchester where he was elected to the Langworthy Professorship and created a major international research laboratory. The Blackett Memorial Hall and Blackett lecture theatre at the University of Manchester were named after him.
In 1947, Blackett introduced a theory to account for the Earth's magnetic field as a function of its rotation, with the hope that it would unify both the electromagnetic force and the force of gravity. He spent a number of years developing high-quality magnetometers to test his theory, and eventually found it to be without merit. His work on the subject, however, led him into the field of geophysics, where he eventually helped process data relating to paleomagnetism and helped to provide strong evidence for continental drift.
Blackett was appointed Head of the Physics Department of Imperial College London in 1953 and retired in July 1963. The Physics department building of Imperial College, the Blackett Laboratory is named in his honour.
In 1957 Blackett gave the presidential address (Technology and World Advancement) to the British Association meeting in Dublin. In 1965 he was invited to deliver the MacMillan Memorial Lecture to the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland. He chose the subject "Continental Drift".
In 1935 Blackett was invited to join the Aeronautical Research Committee chaired by Sir Henry Tizard. The committee was effective pressing for the early installation of Radar for air defence. In the early part of World War II, Blackett served on various committees and spent time at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) Farnborough, where he made a major contribution to the design of the Mark XIV bomb sight which allowed bombs to be released without a level bombing run beforehand. In 1940–41 Blackett served on the MAUD Committee which concluded that an atomic bomb was feasible. He disagreed with the Committee's conclusion that Britain could produce an atomic bomb by 1943, and recommended that the project should be discussed with the Americans. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1933 and awarded its Royal Medal in 1940.
In August 1940 Blackett became scientific adviser to Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Pile, Commander in Chief of Anti-Aircraft Command and thus began the work that resulted in the field of study known as operational research (OR). He was Director of Operational Research with the Admiralty from 1942 to 1945, and his work with E. J. Williams improved the survival odds of convoys, presented counter-intuitive but correct recommendations for the armour-plating of aircraft and achieved many other successes. His aim, he said, was to find numbers on which to base strategy, not gusts of emotion. During the war he criticised the assumptions in Lord Cherwell's dehousing paper and sided with Tizard who argued that fewer resources should go to RAF Bomber Command for the area bombing offensive and more to the other armed forces, as his studies had shown the ineffectiveness of the bombing strategies, as opposed to the importance of fighting of the German U-boats, which were heavily affecting the war effort with their Battle of the Atlantic of merchant ships. In this opinion he chafed against the existing military authority and was cut out of various circles of communications; after the war, the Allied Strategic Bombing Survey proved Blackett correct, however.
Blackett became friends with Kingsley Martin, later editor of the New Statesman, while an undergraduate and became committed to the left. Politically he identified himself as a socialist, and often campaigned on behalf of the Labour Party. In the late 1940s, Blackett became known for his radical political opinions, which included his belief that Britain ought not develop atomic weapons. He was considered too far to the left for the Labour Government 1945-1951 to employ, and he returned to academic life. His internationalism found expression in his strong support for India. There in 1947 he met Jawaharlal Nehru, who sought his advice on the research and development needs of the Indian armed forces and for the next 20 years he was a frequent visitor and advisor on military and civil science. These visits deepened his concern for the underprivileged and the poor. He was convinced that the problem could be solved by applying science and technology and he used his scientific prestige to try and persuade scientists that one of their first duties was to use their skill to ensure a decent life for all mankind. Before underdevelopment became a popular issue he proposed in a presidential address to the British Association that Britain should devote 1% of its national income to the economic improvement of the third world and he was later one of the prime movers in the foundation of the Overseas Development Institute. He was the senior member of a group of scientists which met regularly to discuss scientific and technological policy during the 13 years when the Labour Party was out of office, and this group became influential when Harold Wilson became leader of the Party. Blackett's ideas led directly to the creation of the Ministry of Technology as soon as the Wilson government was formed and he insisted that the first priority was revival of the computer industry. He did not enter open politics, but worked for a year as a civil servant. He remained deputy chairman of the Minister's Advisory Council throughout the administration's life, and was also personal scientific adviser to the Minister.
Blackett had refused many honours in the manner of a radical of the twenties but accepted a Companion of Honour in the 1965 Birthday Honours, and was appointed to the Order of Merit in 1967. He was created a life peer on 27 January 1969 as Baron Blackett, of Chelsea in Greater London. However, the greatest honour of all for him was when he was made President of the Royal Society in 1965. The crater Blackett on the Moon is named after him.
Blackett married Constanza Bayon (1899–1986) in 1924. They had one son and one daughter.
His ashes are buried in the Kensal Green Cemetery, London.
Bernard Lovell wrote of Blackett: "Those who worked with Blackett in the laboratory were dominated by his immensely powerful personality, and those who knew him elsewhere soon discovered that the public image thinly veiled a sensitive and humane spirit".
Edward Bullard said that he was the most versatile and best loved physicist of his generation and that his achievement was also without rival: "he was wonderfully intelligent, charming, fun to be with, dignified and handsome".
In 2016, the house that Blackett lived in from 1953 to 1969 (48 Paultons Square, Chelsea, London) has received an English Heritage Blue Plaque
Blackett was an agnostic or atheist.
Bibha Chowdhuri (1913 - 1991) was an Indian physicist. She worked on particle physics and cosmic rays.Blackett Laboratory
The Blackett Laboratory (named after Patrick Blackett) is part of the Imperial College Faculty of Natural Sciences and has housed the Department of Physics at Imperial College London since its completion in 1961. The building is located on the corner of Prince Consort Road and Queen's Gate, Kensington, and the department ranks 11th on QS's 2018 world university rankings.Christopher Herzig
Christopher Herzig (24 October 1926–1 September 1993) was a British civil servant. He served as Principal Private Secretary to four cabinet ministers, including Lord Hailsham and Sir Edward Boyle.Christopher was the son of Leopold Adolf Herzig.Herzig was involved with Frank Cousins, C. P. Snow, Patrick Blackett and Maurice Dean in setting up the Ministry of Technology in 1964.Edward A. Irving
Edward A. "Ted" Irving, (27 May 1927 – 25 February 2014) was a geologist and scientist with the Geological Survey of Canada. His studies of paleomagnetism provided the first physical evidence of the theory of continental drift. His efforts contributed to our understanding of how mountain ranges, climate, and life have changed over the past millions of years.Emmanuel Levy
Emmanuel Levy (1900–1986) was a Manchester painter, teacher and art critic.Levy studied in Paris and under Pierre Valette at the Manchester School of Art, where he was a fellow student of LS Lowry. Levy was a skilled portraitist: his portrait of Lowry is now owned by Salford Art Gallery, and his portrait of physicist Patrick Blackett is held in the National Portrait Gallery. Levy taught art at Manchester University School of Architecture, and was a Lecturer at Manchester and Stockport College of Art during the 1950’s and 1960s. He was art critic of the Manchester Evening News.Levy was a member of the Manchester Society of Modern Painters and the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts.Evan James Williams
Evan James Williams FRS (8 June 1903 – 29 September 1945) was a Welsh experimental physicist who worked in a number of fields with some of the most notable physicists of his day, including Patrick Blackett, Lawrence Bragg, Ernest Rutherford and Niels Bohr.
Williams earned a degree at Swansea University, doctorates at Manchester and Cambridge universities and a professorship at Aberystwyth University. He was highly regarded by his colleagues, and made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1939.
He died of cancer at the age of 42.Experimental physics
Experimental physics is the category of disciplines and sub-disciplines in the field of physics that are concerned with the observation of physical phenomena and experiments. Methods vary from discipline to discipline, from simple experiments and observations, such as the Cavendish experiment, to more complicated ones, such as the Large Hadron Collider.Harry Elliot
Harry Henry Elliot , (28 June 1920 – 5 July 2009) was a British space scientist, and Emeritus Professor of Physics, at the University of London.James Hamilton (physicist)
James "Jim" Hamilton (29 January 1918, Sligo – 6 July 2000) was an Irish mathematician and theoretical physicist who, whilst at Dublin Institute for Advanced Sciences (1941-1943), helped to develop the theory of cosmic-ray mesons with Walter Heitler and Hwan-Wu Peng.At the University of Manchester (1945-1949), under Patrick Blackett, he worked on radiation damping and associated topics.
At the University of Cambridge, where he lectured in mathematics (1950–1960), he was at the forefront of work on S-matrix theory, known for his use of dispersion relations. His work there included collaborations with Abdus Salam and Hans Bethe. During his last two years he was at the core, along with Richard Eden and George Batchelor, of founding the new Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics.
At University College, London (1960-1964) he formed a thriving high energy physics research group, before moving to Copenhagen and NORDITA, where he led the teaching of particle physics in Scandinavia from 1964 to 1983.John James Nolan
John James Nolan (28 December 1888 – 18 April 1952) was an Irish physicist who served as President of the Royal Irish Academy from 1949 to 1952.He was born near Omagh, County Tyrone and educated at University College Dublin. After graduation in 1909 he carried out research in the Physics Department under Professor John A. McClelland on the electrical charge of rain. He was awarded D.Sc in 1917.
In 1914, he married Hannah "Teresa" Hurley from near Bantry, in County Cork. The couple had five sons, one of whom died at the end of World War II. He was an uncle of abstract painter Evin Nolan.
In 1920, he succeeded McClelland as Professor of Experimental Physics, guiding research into atmospheric electricity and aerosols. Together with his brother, Patrick J. Nolan, and their students, they studied ionization, equilibrium and the relationships of small and large ions in the lower atmosphere. He also, with V. H. Guerrini, developed in 1935 the diffusion battery for measuring the size of aerosol particles.When the School of Cosmic Physics was established at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in 1947, John J. Nolan was appointed as its inaugural Chairman. He served until his death in 1952, and was succeeded in this position by Ernest Walton.In 1950, Nolan successfully nominated Cecil Powell for the Nobel Prize in Physics. Five year earlier, he had nominated Patrick Blackett, who became a Nobel laureate in 1948.In 1920, he was elected a Member of the Royal Irish Academy, becoming Secretary in 1923 and President from 1949 to 1952. He was also Registrar of University College Dublin from 1940 until his death. In 1952, he died while lecturing a large class at UCD in Earlsfort Terrace. He was succeeded as professor of physics at UCD in 1953 by his former student T. E. Nevin, whose M.Sc. thesis under Nolan was on “The Effect of Water Vapour on the Diffusion Coefficients and Mobilities of Ions in the Air,”Keith Runcorn
(Stanley) Keith Runcorn (19 November 1922 – 5 December 1995) was a British physicist whose paleomagnetic reconstruction of the relative motions of Europe and America revived the theory of continental drift and was a major contribution to plate tectonics.King's College, Cambridge
King's College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England. Formally The King's College of Our Lady and Saint Nicholas in Cambridge, the college lies beside the River Cam and faces out onto King's Parade in the centre of the city.
King's was founded in 1441 by Henry VI, soon after he had founded its sister college in Eton. However, the King's plans for the college were disrupted by the Wars of the Roses and resultant scarcity of funds, and his eventual deposition. Little progress was made on the project until in 1508 Henry VII began to take an interest in the college, most likely as a political move to legitimise his new position. The building of the college's chapel, begun in 1446, was finally finished in 1544 during the reign of Henry VIII.
King's College Chapel, Cambridge is regarded as one of the greatest examples of late Gothic English architecture. It has the world's largest fan vault, and the chapel's stained-glass windows and wooden chancel screen are considered some of the finest from their era. The building is seen as emblematic of Cambridge. The chapel's choir, composed of male students at King's and choristers from the nearby King's College School, is one of the most accomplished and renowned in the world. Every year on Christmas Eve the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (a service devised specifically for King's by college dean Eric Milner-White) is broadcast from the chapel to millions of listeners worldwide.Langworthy Professor
The Langworthy Professor is the holder of an endowed chair in the School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Manchester, England.
It was founded by a bequest of £10,000 for the purpose of endowing a professorship of experimental physics by E. R. Langworthy in 1874. It began at Owens College and from 1903/04 to 2004 was a chair at the Victoria University of Manchester, now The University of Manchester.
Previous holders include the Nobel prize winners Ernest Rutherford (1907–19), Lawrence Bragg (1919–37), Patrick Blackett (1937–1953), Andre Geim (2007–2013) and Konstantin Novoselov (2013–). Others were Andrew Lyne (?-2007), Brian Flowers, Arthur Schuster (1888–1907), Samuel Devons. The current holder is Konstantin Novoselov (2013–).Max Newman
Maxwell Herman Alexander Newman, FRS, (7 February 1897 – 22 February 1984), generally known as Max Newman, was a British mathematician and codebreaker. His work in World War II led to the construction of Colossus, the world's first operational, programmable electronic computer, and he established the Royal Society Computing Machine Laboratory at the University of Manchester, which produced the world's first working, electronic stored-program electronic computer in 1948, the Manchester Baby.Oxygen-17
Oxygen-17 is a low-abundant, natural, stable isotope of oxygen (0.0373% in seawater; approximately twice as abundant as deuterium).
As the only stable isotope of oxygen possessing a nuclear spin (+5/2) and a favorable characteristic of field-independent relaxation in liquid water, O-17 enables NMR studies of oxidative metabolic pathways through compounds containing 17O (i.e. metabolically produced H217O water by oxidative phosphorylation in mitochondria) at high magnetic fields.
Water used as nuclear reactor coolant is subjected to intense neutron flux. Natural water starts out with 373 ppm of O-17; heavy water starts out incidentally enriched to about 550 ppm of oxygen-17. The neutron flux slowly converts O-16 in the cooling water to O-17 by neutron capture, increasing its concentration. The neutron flux slowly converts O-17 in the cooling water to carbon-14, an undesirable product that escapes to the environment. 17O (n,alpha) → 14C. Some tritium removal facilities make a point of replacing the oxygen of the water with natural oxygen (mostly 16O) to give the added benefit of reducing C-14 production.Paultons Square
Paultons Square is a Georgian terraced garden square in Chelsea, London, SW3. It was built in 1836–40 on the site of a former market garden, land previously owned by Sir Thomas More and Sir John Danvers. The square features a central lawn enclosed by metal railings; the houses surrounding it are listed Grade II on the National Heritage List for England.The author Gavin Maxwell is a notable former resident of the square – he lived at number 9 from 1961–65 – and it is often visited by admirers of his work. The novelist and short-story writer Jean Rhys lived in Flat 22 in Paulton House in the square from 1936–38 and the winner of the 1969 Nobel Prize for Literature, Samuel Beckett, lived at number 48 Paulton Square from 1933–34. The winner of the 1948 Nobel Prize in Physics Patrick Blackett, also lived at No. 48. Other residents include the painters Augustus John at No.45,and Paul Nash at No.19,the poet Kathleen Raine at No.47,and lexicographer Henry Watson Fowler,at No.14. Beckett,Blackett,Rhys,Fowler and Maxwell all have blue plaques.
The garden is 0.3535 hectares (0.874 acres) in size and was redesigned for the third millennium in 2000. It is not open to the public and accessible only by local residents.Roberto Salmeron
Roberto Salmeron (born June 16, 1922 in São Paulo) is a Brazilian electrical engineer and experimental nuclear physicist and an emeritus Research Director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).
Salmeron did his undergraduate studies in electrical engineering at the Escola Politécnica da Universidade de São Paulo, in São Paulo, and in physics in the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (then named Universidade do Brasil), in Rio de Janeiro. From 1947 to 1950, he worked as researcher and physics instructor at the Escola Politécnica and in the Department of Physics of the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters of the University of São Paulo, where he studied cosmic radiation under Italian physicists Gleb Wataghin and Giuseppe Occhialini. From 1950 to 1953, Salmeron worked at the recently created Centro Brasileiro de Pesquisas Físicas (Brazilian Center of Physical Research) in Rio. In São Paulo and Rio, Salmeron was contemporary of a brilliant generation of young Brazilian physicists, such as César Lattes, José Leite Lopes, Oscar Sala, Mário Schenberg, Marcelo Damy de Souza Santos and Jayme Tiomno.
From 1953 onwards, Salmeron lived in Europe, first doing his Ph.D. from 1953 to 1955 at the University of Manchester, under Patrick Blackett, Nobel Prize winner of Physics, and then as an associate researcher in the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), in Geneva, Switzerland, from 1955 to 1963.
In 1963, Salmeron returned to Brazil and accepted a post as professor of physics in the newly created Universidade de Brasília. Unfortunately, the military dictatorship repressed strongly the faculty with liberal and leftist ideas and he joined 223 other professors in protest, who resigned from the University in October 1965.
In 1966 Salmeron left definitely Brazil and went to work in Europe at CERN again, where he had an important role in experiments attempting to discover the quark–gluon plasma. Afterwards (1967) he worked at the École Polytechnique in Paris, France, one of the most important schools of engineering in the world.Secretary of State for Economic Affairs
The Secretary of State for Economic Affairs was briefly an office of Her Majesty's government in the United Kingdom. It was established by Harold Wilson in October 1964. Wilson had been impressed by the six-weeks experiment of a Minister for Economic Affairs in 1947, an office occupied by Stafford Cripps before he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. The office was revived for eight months in 1950 and held by Hugh Gaitskell and, after Conservative victory in 1951 election, Churchill also appointed a Minister of Economic Affairs, Arthur Salter, in the period 1951–52.
Wilson's advisers Patrick Blackett and Thomas Balogh advised him to recreate a new ministry, to be called the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA), in order to drive through his economic plan. Wilson wanted to divide the functions of the Treasury in two, in part to reduce its power. The DEA, as it soon became known, would undertake long-term planning of the economy and industry, while the Treasury would determine short-term revenue raising and financial management. The DEA was therefore tasked with the preparation of a National Plan for the economy, which was published in September 1965.
Critics of Wilson's approach, including Douglas Jay, suspected the main reason for the Department was to appease George Brown, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. The story (which was true) that Brown finally accepted the job while riding in a taxi with Wilson tended to lead credence to this analysis.
Under Brown the Department had a reasonable degree of influence. However, Brown was moved to the Foreign Office in August 1966, and the two succeeding secretaries of state were not of his rank. The Treasury was able to claw back its power and the Department had become moribund long before it was wound up in 1969.
The Department of Economic Affairs was the model for the fictional Department of Administrative Affairs in the television series Yes, Minister.
Copley Medallists (1951–2000)