He worked for a time for an Adelaide jeweller and applied unsuccessfully for a number of other positions. Eventually he obtained a cadetship at the South Australian Public Library. The work was uninspiring, but it did at least enable him to take a couple of subjects at the University of Adelaide at night, and thus, in , to cross the threshold of his academic career. Chemistry and physics soon captured him. Then, in his second year of part-time study, an opportunity arose which was undoubtedly a turning point in his life. He accepted a cadetship in the Physics Department under Professor later Sir Kerr Grant, thus giving him not only free tuition and a minute income but also an intimate connection with the department and its academic staff of three.
Since his first year physics result was undistinguished, it is not clear how he obtained the position. Kerr Grant may have been aware of Oliphant's ingenuity and facility with apparatus, and seen an opportunity for skilled help with the lecture demonstrations for which Kerr Grant was renowned. Whatever the reason, Mark flourished in the job, taking out a First Class Honours degree in physics in As Kerr Grant's 'laboratory assistant' so recorded by the university's Calendar Mark Oliphant's stature in his employer's eyes steadily grew. Kerr Grant's recognition in that same letter of Mark's 'remarkable technical skill' explains why he wanted to exploit his talent to the full rather than use his other talents only on the more routine tasks of lecturing and demonstrating.
The records show that he did in fact do both, teaching at all levels of undergraduate physics. The offer of the cadetship was Oliphant's first break. The second came when Kerr Grant took sabbatical leave in and Mark then became responsible to the acting departmental head, R. Roy Burdon. Kerr Grant had a brilliant mind and inspired his students, Mark included.
With great enthusiasm, he initiated research on numerous topics that interested him, but often could not pursue them to conclusion. Burdon's approach was different and, through careful research, he became highly respected for his work on surface tension, a project that Oliphant had joined earlier. Oliphant and Burdon continued their collaborative work on mercury surfaces, a line of investigation suggested earlier to Burdon by Kerr Grant and with which Oliphant had been assisting Burdon. Their work led to joint publications in Nature , Transactions of the Faraday Society and to Mark's first solo publication in Philosophical Magazine.
Undoubtedly, it was this work that played a significant part in securing for Oliphant one of the Exhibition scholarships for , satisfying as it did one of the criteria of the award that the candidate should possess 'proven capacity for original work'. Burdon had often expressed his high opinion of Oliphant's experimental ability in later years; Kerr Grant's was enthusiastically expressed in his letter of support to the commissioners for the scholarship:.
Mr Oliphant possesses, in fact, an altogether unusual aptitude for the technical side of physics and a remarkable gift for manipulation While I thus emphasize [his] ability and experience in the field of practical physics I do not wish to give the impression that he is a mere technician. On the contrary, his knowledge of theoretical physics is both wide and thorough — as his interest is strong — and amply sufficient to guide him in the choice of problems for research As proof of his interest and capability in theoretical physics I may mention that in letters received from him since my departure on sabbatical leave The award of the prestigious and valuable '' enabled Oliphant to realise an ambition to work with the New Zealand-born Nobel Prize winner Ernest Rutherford, then Director of the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge.
The ambition had had its origin some two years earlier when Rutherford had briefly visited Adelaide en route from New Zealand and Mark had been 'electrified' by him. That year, , was a momentous year for him. Not only did it mark his first encounter with the man who had the most profound influence on his scientific career and with whom he was to make his greatest scientific contributions, but it was also the year in which he married his beloved wife, Rosa Wilbraham, who was to be his companion for more than sixty years.
Rutherford's aura had an immediate impact on Oliphant. According to his later accounts '[Rutherford's] work fascinated me, and I determined that I would work under him, if this was at all possible'. It was to be 23 years before they returned to their homeland permanently. Oliphant arrived in Cambridge in October Having already secured a place in Trinity College, he sought a meeting with Rutherford to propose a research programme that he had prepared.
Although his proposal may not have been of direct interest to Rutherford, it would have interested his predecessor, J. Thomson, who was still working in the Cavendish Laboratory at that time. Recounting that first interview later, Oliphant wrote:. This topic was certainly of interest to Thomson, whose beneficial influence Oliphant freely acknowledged. Oliphant and Thomson worked as near neighbours in the laboratory and Oliphant gained confidence in his own experimental skills from his first sight of Thomson's apparatus, which convinced him that he 'could do better glass-blowing than J.
Oliphant's PhD thesis displayed his ingenuity and dexterity in constructing apparatus. In scale, his experiments were more ambitious than those of his Adelaide days, but still small compared with the work he began with Rutherford in The experiments were mainly concerned with the impact of positive ions on metal surfaces. Calling on his experience with mercury surfaces in Adelaide, Oliphant took extreme care in the preparation of his metal surfaces, adopting meticulous vacuum and surface preparation techniques.
Oliphant completed his PhD at a time when the staff of the Cavendish Laboratory, led by Rutherford, were famous for their fundamental discoveries about atomic structure and their pioneering development of the new science of nuclear physics. Oliphant delighted in the exalted scientific company in which he found himself. The following list of Nobel Prize winners by year of award shows the remarkable strength of the Cavendish staff of the s: J. Aston Chemistry, ; Charles T. Appleton ; Patrick M. Blackett ; John D.
Walton also ; and the ebullient Russian, Pyotr 'Peter' L. Kapitza , founder of the 'Kapitza Club' discussion group. Oliphant shared a room in the Cavendish Laboratory with P. Philip Moon, who later joined him in Birmingham. Following his PhD work, Oliphant had a brief foray into isotope separation, his interest then being to determine which of the isotopes of potassium was radioactive.
Although he soon moved from isotope separation to transmutation by accelerated particles, the techniques that he learnt were crucial to his work with Rutherford on the disintegration of lithium under proton or deuteron bombardment and, later, in the separation of the isotopes of uranium. In the history of the Cavendish Laboratory, is often called the annus mirabilis , when major new discoveries made it possible to explore the atomic nucleus using the model that had been proposed by Rutherford long before he was appointed to the Cavendish Chair.
Led by Rutherford, the staff of the Cavendish Laboratory began to lay the foundations for the new science of nuclear physics. Chadwick's discovery of the neutron, an uncharged particle of similar mass to the proton, confirmed Rutherford's suspicion or long-held vision that the nucleus was made up, not of protons and electrons, but of protons and neutrons. Nuclear structure was explored in more detail by Cockcroft and Walton, who showed how to break open the nuclei of 'light' target elements such as lithium and boron to release showers of particles such as protons and helium nuclei that were smaller than the nuclei of the target elements.
To do that, Cockcroft and Walton had bombarded the nuclei with streams of protons accelerated to great speeds by high electrical voltages. The 'particle accelerator' they built for this purpose was a sign of the future of nuclear physics, in which new discoveries would depend less on the 'string and sealing wax' for which the Cavendish Laboratory was noted, and more on applications of heavy electrical engineering. Rutherford was none too enthusiastic about the new methodology but nevertheless quickly recruited the inventive and technically adept Oliphant to design and build a similar machine on which the two of them could work together.
Assembled in a basement, Oliphant's accelerator used lower voltages than Cockcroft and Walton's, but higher currents, which provided a greater flux of protons to bring about the 'splitting' or 'disintegration' of the atomic nucleus. Oliphant and his research team were soon able to confirm what Cockcroft and Walton had found. In the summer of , the Cavendish Laboratory obtained a few drops of the precious 'heavy water', newly discovered by the American chemist G.
Lewis of the University of California at Berkeley. Heavy water contained 'heavy hydrogen', the nucleus of which held a neutron as well as a proton. A team of physicists at Berkeley, led by E. Ernest Lawrence, had begun to use the heavy hydrogen nuclei, which they called 'deutons' later to be called 'deuterons' to bombard light nuclei as Cockcroft and Walton had first done with their linear high-tension accelerator.
The Berkeley team used Lawrence's recently invented cyclotron to accelerate the projectile particles by sending them many times around a circular track and adding an energy increment with each circuit. Oliphant and Rutherford were soon using deuterons which the Cavendish Laboratory called 'diplons' in similar experiments, with the particles as both missiles and targets replacing ordinary hydrogen in certain compounds , but the plentiful disintegrations yielded puzzling results. The Berkeley team saw them as well, and argued that the deuterons were unstable and broke up on impact.
At the Cavendish Laboratory they thought differently, arguing that when two deuterons collide, they momentarily fuse into a helium nucleus two protons and two neutrons before breaking apart again into two previously unknown particles. Some disintegrations yielded a hydrogen nucleus with two neutrons hydrogen-3, 3 H plus a free proton, others a helium nucleus with only one neutron helium-3 , 3 He plus a free neutron.
Neither 3 H nor 3 He had previously been known to exist, but proof enough was provided by the Cavendish experiments to convince the Berkeley team. Correspondence between Lawrence and Oliphant on this research was the beginning of a friendship that was crucial in the coming war years. The early s were the most productive of Oliphant's career as a pure researcher in nuclear physics, but his recognition of the investment needed to make further experimental advances in nuclear physics was a sign of things to come. With a reputation established by two versions of the 'basement' accelerator, Oliphant was set to work by Rutherford overseeing the building of two new high- voltage machines the famous HT1 and HT2 sets that were paid for by a gift from Lord Nuffield.
Rutherford saw the money as more trouble than it was worth; others, however, including Oliphant, knew that big and expensive equipment was the only way forward. Oliphant and Rutherford carried out fundamental work on nuclear transmutations. They had complementary talents, with Oliphant's inventiveness and technical skills matching Rutherford's seemingly inspired knowledge of possible nuclear processes. Oliphant's research achievements at the Cavendish Laboratory are summarised in the following citation supporting his election to the Royal Society of London:.
Oliphant was elected to the Royal Society in His work on nuclear reactions with the isotopes of hydrogen and helium was particularly important and forms the basis for the production of nuclear fusion energy, which is still one of the holy grails of energy research. At the time of his death, Oliphant was by far the longest-serving Fellow of the Royal Society, having carried the honour for over sixty years. In his place, Oliphant was appointed Assistant Director of Research and became Rutherford's deputy for experimental work throughout the Cavendish Laboratory.
He was also a Fellow of St John's College, with a share in the annual College dividend, and a College Lecturer, earning fees for tutorial and other teaching duties. Taken together, the various income strands provided a comfortable living for Mark and Rosa that was well above the near penury in which they had lived in their early days in Cambridge. Mark's research achievements had been rewarded, but no amount of financial success could make up for the loss of their three-year-old son, Geoffrey, who had died of meningitis in while Mark was travelling in Europe with his father.
One by one, the old Cavendish team was moving on. Rutherford's successor would be another Nobel Prize winner, W. Lawrence Bragg, eminent in solid-state physics rather than the inner workings of the atom. Cockcroft was still there, but the central role of the Cavendish Laboratory in nuclear physics was beginning to pass to others, notably Lawrence's team in Berkeley.
Oliphant had done excellent work with Rutherford in Cambridge but, like so many others from the old Cavendish Laboratory, he wanted to 'run his own show' and, in , despite Rutherford's strong initial objections, Oliphant accepted the Poynting Chair of Physics at the University of Birmingham. Oliphant moved to Birmingham in early autumn of but, within weeks of his arrival, Rutherford died, suddenly and unexpectedly, from the effects of hernial damage resulting from a fall from a tree in his garden in Cambridge. Oliphant heard the news in Italy while attending the Galvani Bicentenary celebrations.
He felt keenly the loss of the man who had had such a great influence on his own career. In his new surroundings in Birmingham, Oliphant was determined to continue the Cavendish tradition of research in experimental nuclear physics. He had bargained hard with his new employers to boost the resources supporting research, but he was planning to build the largest cyclotron in Europe and much more money would be needed.
With support from the new Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, whose family had strong links to the University — the Chamberlain Tower dominated the campus landscape — Oliphant and his supporters gained the patronage of Lord Nuffield, maker of the popular Morris cars. Oliphant had met Lawrence, the second of the 'two Ernests' who were such an influence on him, only once before, in , at a meeting of the Kapitza Club.
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They had, however, been in close correspondence in connection with the Cambridge experiments using heavy hydrogen. Oliphant visited Berkeley in December He and Lawrence had much in common and became good friends.
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Lawrence generously offered help with the Birmingham cyclotron, which would be a close copy of the one he was then building in Berkeley, and his staff, notably Don Cooksey, provided advice and copies of blueprints of their machine. With massive resources at his disposal, Lawrence made rapid progress. His new cyclotron was on-line late in , producing 10 MeV million electron volt protons, and the award of the Nobel Prize for Physics crowned his year.
Oliphant saw in the award a vindication of the efforts he and others were making to develop new methods to accelerate particles. He wrote to Lawrence in November:. Oliphant's year had not gone so well. War had broken out in September, with his machine well short of completion.
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Delays had piled up, including those resulting from an accident when two of his team had legs crushed by a falling steel plate. Many of his senior colleagues were indifferent to his plans, and more and more of his time was spent away from the project, dealing with crucial matters of national defence. The defence matters concerned what was known at the time as RDF Radio Direction Finding , which became 'Radio Location', and is now universally known as 'Radar' radio detection and ranging.
Since , a growing team of scientists and technicians, working in secret, had taken RDF from a simple principle to a network of radar stations called Chain Home, dotted along the south and east coasts of Britain, able to detect approaching aircraft. They were also a source of mystery to the local public. The system, however, was unreliable and seriously in need of development and refinement.
Oliphant was made privy to the secret in the autumn of He was soon to realise that the limitations of existing RDF were largely attributable to the wavelengths of the radiation used, 10 metres or more. Finding ways of generating powerful radio waves of a metre or less in wavelength were needed, ways that might also allow the production of equipment small and lightweight enough to be fitted into aircraft.
Existing magnetrons were low-power laboratory devices, as were the klystrons recently invented by Stanford University scientists. Oliphant used his visit to Lawrence to learn more about generating useful amounts of power at very short wavelengths. In the last months before the outbreak of war, John Cockcroft took charge of recruiting more than 80 physicists from universities across the country, including Oliphant and others from the old Cavendish network, to bolster research on RDF. Oliphant led his team of eight or ten, all from Birmingham, to a Chain Home station at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, to discover more about how RDF worked and how to make it work better.
When war was declared, the team moved back to Birmingham, a few at a time. Oliphant then succeeded in securing for the team a contract from the Admiralty to identify or invent the best possible generators and detectors of microwaves. He broke his team into groups, each with different responsibilities.
He and James Sayers concentrated on improving the design of the klystron and by early in the following year had produced a new style of klystron producing about watts W at a wavelength of 7 cm. In the meantime, two members of his team, J. John Randall and H. Harry Boot, worked on the primitive magnetron. From unpromising and frustrating beginnings, they went back to first principles and, in November , produced plans for a new form of magnetron, the 'resonant cavity' magnetron. Oliphant obtained some further funding from the Admiralty to build a demonstration model.
On 21 February , the first model, crafted from a solid block of copper, poured out half a kilowatt at a wavelength of 9. By June , the first sealed-off cavity magnetrons were available for use in RDF sets that could detect aircraft and surface ships. Rapid improvements increased the power to 25 kW pulses, making it possible for an airborne set to detect the periscope of a submarine. Subsequent 'strapping' of the cavity magnetron by Sayers increased the power to 50 kW.
The General Electric Co. The power of the klystron did not equal that of the cavity magnetron, but continued improvement of design produced reliable, robust, compact klystrons that were essential for the local oscillators in the heterodyne microwave receivers of the signals reflected from the target. Thousands of magnetrons and klystrons were produced by the radio valve manufacturers in England and then in the United States, where the designs, which had been provided from England, were further improved for use in American-produced radar sets.
Oliphant himself relayed much of the detailed information on the design and production to America. He crossed the Atlantic several times in the bomb bays of aircraft, his only provisions being the packs of sandwiches that Rosa had cut, a thermos of coffee, and a bundle of blankets. Oliphant's influence, overall, was immense. He inspired the various groups of his team and gave them their leads. He made the contacts, found the funds and resources, and led the whole team on a dozen projects with passion, vigour and an endless supply of good ideas, many of which worked.
The pace of work was furious, especially when war came, but he remained with them totally immersed in the task. The fall of Singapore in February prompted a swift reaction in Oliphant. He, like others, saw Australia as under threat from the advancing Japanese and he immediately arranged to return home. The move was hasty and unrewarding, if well intentioned. The trip by troopship took two and a half months, but did reunite him with his family, whom he had sent to Adelaide early in the war for safety. The worst of the blitz now over, they returned to England together, with the journey by sea lasting four months!
A number of widely reported pre-war experiments had raised the possibility that energy stored in uranium atoms could be used to produce a bomb of unprecedented power. Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner and Fritz Strassmann, working in Berlin, had studied transmutations produced by neutron bombardment of the elements. Generally, as had been shown by Enrico Fermi, neutron bombardment led to the formation of the element with the next highest atomic number, but the results obtained by bombarding the heaviest element, uranium, could not be understood simply in terms of formation of transuranic elements.
Hahn, Meitner and Strassmann continued their collaboration by correspondence. When Hahn tried to explain their uranium work in terms of transuranics, Meitner insisted on re-examination of the experimental results, which showed that barium, not radium, was the main transmutation product. She suggested that the whole uranium nucleus had been split by neutron bombardment, with a massive release of stored nuclear energy.
Meitner and her nephew, Otto Frisch, gave the first theoretical account of this process, which they called 'nuclear fission'. Oliphant, aware of these developments, turned his attention to the possibility of releasing large amounts of energy by the fission of uranium. Frisch had made outstanding personal contributions to understanding the fission process. Because of their foreign origin, they were excluded from participation in the secret radar programme, but not from work on nuclear fission, nor, indeed, from consideration of the practicality of constructing nuclear weaponry. The presence in Birmingham of both Frisch and Peierls greatly strengthened the fission work that Oliphant now wished to encourage.
Two major questions needed to be answered to decide if an atomic bomb could be built. Would the chain reaction be fast enough to be explosive and, given that some neutrons would always escape, what critical mass of uranium would be needed to sustain the reaction? Initial calculations and experiments indicated that with natural uranium the reaction would be so slow that the critical mass would be measured in tonnes.
The military value appeared to be minimal. George Thomson son of J. Oliphant used his RDF contacts at the Air Ministry to secure one ton of uranium oxide that allowed Moon to continue this work, but results remained negative. Natural uranium consists of a mixture of U and U, with only the lighter isotope, U, being fissionable by slow neutrons. In a crucial memorandum, Frisch and Peierls proposed 'enriching' the uranium by increasing the proportion of U. They calculated that a chain reaction in only a few tens of kilograms of fully enriched uranium would be violently explosive, equal to hundreds or even thousands of tonnes of TNT.
The British effort to build an 'atomic bomb', initially code-named M. Oliphant reached back to his Cambridge work on potassium in an effort to separate the uranium isotopes using electromagnetism. Elsewhere, other methods were being tried, but it was soon clear that the massive effort needed to build the bomb was beyond hard-pressed Britain.
The necessary technical and industrial resources lay in the United States, where Albert Einstein, spurred by Leo Szilard, had already tried to alert the US Government to the threat that Germany might have the weapon first. During his visit to the United States to promote 'strapping' the magnetron, Oliphant was shocked to find that work there on the atomic bomb appeared to be at a standstill, with crucial reports from M.
His response was typical; he stirred up his good friend and collaborator Ernest Lawrence, who in turn convinced key people in US science and government of the need for action. Oliphant took his team of mostly Birmingham people to Berkeley to work on electromagnetic separation of isotopes with Lawrence's people. This work helped produce the bomb that was to level Hiroshima. Oliphant's skilful and determined arguments, and his friendship with Lawrence, were important factors in the establishment of the Manhattan Project.
He was deeply concerned that any delay in the Project could increase the risk that Germany might build the first atomic bomb; and he was both a persuasive speaker and a persistent advocate. When told, for example, that insufficient high conductivity copper was available to wind the coils for the electromagnetic separators, Oliphant succeeded in convincing the US Treasury to release 14, tons of silver from Fort Knox, to be used instead of copper! By mid, Oliphant was back in Birmingham, looking to tasks beyond the war.
His attitude to the atomic bomb at the time was clear. He was less enthusiastic after Hiroshima. After favouring a non-lethal demonstration of the weapon's power as had a number of the other Project scientists , he was horrified by its use against civilians, and thereafter actively opposed the military use of nuclear power.
His activities inevitably brought him into conflict with the authorities, whose perception of him may lie behind an apparent refusal of a visa to visit the United States in the early s. International control of nuclear weapons was one of the most important problems facing the newly formed United Nations UN in Australia's Prime Minister, J. Evatt, the Australian Minister for External Affairs. Oliphant welcomed the opportunity to participate in the resolution of an issue about which he held strong views, and joined George Briggs of CSIR as a technical adviser to Evatt.
Oliphant also like Bertrand Russell, Cockcroft, Blackett and many others became a zealous champion of the 'peaceful atom', publicly endorsing a vision of a future transformed by cheap nuclear power from the atom. He contributed to advancing its cause when he led the Australian delegation to the first UN Conferences on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva in and In time though, his attitude changed, as the many issues surrounding nuclear power emerged.
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Oliphant's membership of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs provided him with a less formal but nonetheless influential forum in which to express his strongly held views against war of any kind. As one of the 22 founding members of Pugwash, comprising eminent scientists drawn from 10 countries, many Nobel Laureates among their number, Oliphant found a group with which he formed strong kinship.
Founded in at the height of the Cold War, it had as its proclaimed aims the. Both its aims and its modus operandi appealed greatly to Oliphant's strong attraction to internationalism and his desire to cut through hypocrisy and cant based on nationalism and political alignment.
Following the inaugural conference in in Canada, entitled Appraisal of Dangers from Atomic Weapons , Oliphant attended seven other conferences during the next twenty years, preparing or presenting papers at many of them. Oliphant's involvement in, and enthusiasm for, Pugwash illustrates one of his passionately held views, namely his opposition to war. Whether or not this often- expressed opposition resulted from his horror at the first use of the bomb he helped develop, he described himself in later life.
In later years, the thought of hydrogen and deuterium as power sources intrigued Oliphant, both through nuclear fusion using the reactions he had discovered more than twenty years before at the Cavendish Laboratory , and as a chemical fuel in a 'hydrogen economy'. In , Stewart Cockburn, one of Oliphant's biographers, found among declassified secret records in the United States National Archives in Washington, a citation for the conferring on Oliphant of the highest award that can be granted to foreigners by the US Government, namely, the Congressional Medal of Freedom with Gold Palm.
The award was proposed for Oliphant's brilliance in conceiving, developing and perfecting the cavity magnetron an incorrect attribution , his 'outstanding contributions in the development of the atomic bomb' and his immeasurable contribution 'to the success of the Allied war effort'. Oliphant was not apprised of the proposed award. Other archival material revealed that the Australian Government of the time could not agree to the acceptance by Australian citizens of awards of another Government.
Thus, the proposed award was cancelled.
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Back in Birmingham, with the war not quite won, Oliphant resumed his work on particle accelerators. In , with funding from Birmingham University and Lord Nuffield, he had commenced the construction of a inch cyclotron that was very similar in design to Ernest Lawrence's accelerator in Berkeley. The construction of this machine, which would be the largest cyclotron in Europe and the second largest in the world, was, in itself, a major project for the University. Simultaneously with resuming construction of the cyclotron, Oliphant considered other types of particle accelerator that might provide higher energies than could be obtained using cyclotrons alone.
He was particularly interested in the proton synchrotron, a radically different particle accelerator, which had been suggested independently during the war by Oliphant and by E. Veksler in the Soviet Union. No detailed design studies had been made, but the principle of the proton synchrotron was to confine the particles to a fixed orbit by varying the magnetic field as batches of particles were accelerated. At the same time, the frequency of the applied accelerating electric field had to change in such a way as to maintain synchronism with the accelerating particles, and to compensate for relativistic effects.
The restricted path meant that the circular pole pieces of the cyclotron could be replaced by a ring of magnets, with a great saving in materials and costs. Oliphant was the first to request and receive funds to construct a proton synchrotron. Oliphant justified the spending on the grounds that the new understanding of nuclear physics that the machine would bring might open up new sources of energy.
In the immediate postwar period Oliphant attracted a number of Australian and New Zealand research students to work with him in Birmingham. One of these was John Gooden from Adelaide, who arrived in Birmingham in and was very interested in the proposed new particle accelerator. Other early recruits to Birmingham who had a long-term involvement with Oliphant's accelerator projects included J.
Jack Blamey from Melbourne, L. Len Hibbard from Sydney, and W. Wibs Smith from Adelaide. Gooden had worked on radar research at CSIR in Sydney during the war and began to work with Oliphant on detailed synchrotron designs. They made good progress with these studies and, by , Oliphant was able to undertake to construct the world's first proton synchrotron in Birmingham. The Birmingham synchrotron would, at second intervals, accelerate protons to an energy level of 1 GeV, or one hundred times the maximum energy of existing cyclotrons. At the same time, work continued on the construction of the Birmingham cyclotron.
With his Chair in Birmingham and his well-established laboratory on the international conference circuit, as shown by the distinguished attendance at the Birmingham International Theoretical Physics Conference, Oliphant would seem to have been ideally located to participate in the postwar expansion in nuclear and particle physics research. His reputation as one of the world's leading accelerator physicists, together with the facilities he was constructing in Birmingham, would have given him a central position in the rapidly developing field of high-energy particle physics.
Moreover, during the war he and his research groups had made major contributions to the development of the magnetron for airborne radar and to the initiation of research on the atomic bomb. Taken together with his earlier research in nuclear physics, particularly his work with Rutherford on nuclear reactions among the isotopes of hydrogen and helium, Oliphant was ideally placed to lead a well-equipped laboratory carrying out experimental research at the forefront of modern physics.
All this had not gone unnoticed, and Oliphant now faced a dilemma. His eminence as a research director led to his receiving a number of tempting offers at this time, including a recommendation from Cockcroft for the Jacksonian Chair of Physics in Cambridge, an offer of a tenured post with Lawrence in Berkeley, and the founding Directorship of the ANU Research School of Physical Sciences. His scientific achievements and leadership prowess would have impressed any search committee.
The possibility of attracting Oliphant back to Australia was being discussed in Canberra, where H. The university, at least initially, would contain four research schools, including one in medical research, one in physical sciences and two in the social sciences. Coombs and his fellow planners sought advice about the scope and structure of the research schools from distinguished Australian expatriates who were well established in leading overseas institutions, mainly in the UK, and who might, as directors, provide leadership for the new research schools.
Coombs asked Harrie Massey, a distinguished Australian theoretical physicist at University College London, for advice about a research school of physical sciences that concentrated on theoretical problems. Massey was not enthusiastic about this proposal since he considered that, in the postwar period, the most interesting opportunities for major scientific advances were in experimental rather than theoretical physics. Consequently, if the research were to be mainly limited to theoretical topics, it would be very difficult to create a research school at international standards in the physical sciences.
Massey suggested that an approach should be made to Oliphant but warned that, if Australia wished to attract leading scientists in Oliphant's field, it would need to provide adequate resources, including expensive laboratory facilities like those in the USA and Europe. The meeting was of great importance for the ANU. Evatt and other members of the Prime Minister's party. Oliphant, we are told, was at his spellbinding best. He spoke about the atomic bomb and the strategic implications of a world dominated by nuclear weapons. He was enthusiastic about the peaceful uses of nuclear power, especially the benefits of unlimited sources of energy for nuclear desalination.
He foresaw Australia at the forefront of nuclear research. This was more than four times the amount originally suggested to Cabinet, but Chifley told Coombs 'If you can persuade Oliphant to head the school we will do whatever is necessary'. Of the four advisers, only Oliphant accepted the appointment as founding Director of his School. In his 50th year, he had to face the dilemma of choosing between remaining in Birmingham, with its partly complete accelerators, and founding a new nuclear physics laboratory in Canberra with sufficient government support to be internationally competitive.
In the end, he chose to accept the ANU appointment. Oliphant was convinced of the benefits of nuclear research to Australia and encouraged by the level of official support for the new university laboratory. In later years, he frequently recalled Florey's warning given at Tilbury when farewelling Oliphant in that going to Canberra would be committing scientific hara-kiri and that all he would find in Canberra would be a 'hole in the ground and a mountain full of promises'.
But any decision to take the easy option and remain in Birmingham would have been totally out of character for Oliphant. Extending the metaphor of Florey's warning, Oliphant's move to Canberra meant that he would need to establish a new laboratory on a bare ridge in an almost empty campus within a town that had no significant high technology industry. From to , when he became Director, Oliphant tapered off his direct involvement with the Birmingham synchrotron and was increasingly concerned with the design of the proposed Canberra accelerator and with planning, staff recruitment and administration of the new research school.
Oliphant and his family moved to Canberra in Although the Birmingham synchrotron was not yet finished, Oliphant considered that all critical decisions had been taken and 'the rest was detail' that could be settled in his absence. After his departure, the Birmingham project was delayed by problems in the motor generator set, the anchorage of the pole tips and an electrical short in the magnet windings.
These faults 'details' were easily fixed but the delays were such that, despite starting two years earlier, the Birmingham machine did not reach its designed 1 GeV until July , a few weeks after the US 'Cosmotron' reached 3 GeV. Oliphant was both founding Director of the School and leader of the group that conducted the School's major projects.
His plans to build in Canberra one of the world's biggest particle accelerators dominated the expenditure of the School's funds. At a time of postwar shortages, buildings, workshops, stores, and technical services had to be established from scratch to support research over a wide range of the physical sciences. Oliphant's projects also brought to the School a number of experienced technicians, some of whom had worked with him in Cambridge and Birmingham. In the s and s, when the Research School was being set up, there was an acute shortage of experienced technical staff throughout Australia, and the continued recruitment of technical staff from overseas was required.
In addition to leading the work of his own group in high-energy accelerator physics, Oliphant, as Director, expanded the work of the Research School to include astronomy, mathematics, geophysics, theoretical physics, atomic and molecular physics, nuclear physics and particle physics. Under his leadership, the Research School became a major centre for Australian research and postgraduate training in the physical sciences.
Oliphant was a generous manager and his 'one man rule' enjoyed the strong support of the academic staff, most of whom had never before worked in an adequately funded laboratory where needs were anticipated rather than placed in a queue. The academic expansion of the Research School may be judged by considering some of the first professorial appointments. In , the Commonwealth Astronomer, R. Oliphant further expanded the academic range of the School in by appointing John C. Jaeger as Professor of Geophysics.
In , Oliphant appointed Kenneth Le Couteur, an outstanding theorist who had been responsible for the extraction of the beam from the Liverpool cyclotron, as Professor of Theoretical Physics. Bok from Harvard was appointed as Professor of Astronomy. In , Bernhard H. Neumann was appointed as Professor of Mathematics.
Oliphant made a senior academic appointment in a field close to his own in when Ernest W. Titterton, then at Harwell, was appointed as a Professor of Physics. Titterton had been Oliphant's first research student in Birmingham and from to was a member of the British group at Los Alamos.
He was experienced in the use of cloud chambers and emulsions, both of which would be useful techniques for studying the properties of some of the 'strange particles' that might be produced by a high-energy accelerator. The original strategy was for Titterton's group of nuclear physicists to conduct an experimental nuclear research programme using a number of small accelerators, while Oliphant's team of accelerator builders completed the big machine. The small accelerators included a 1. The original strategy was soon out of date, due to delays in machine building and because the nuclear physics research programme was proceeding independently.
Oliphant's initial plans for the new Research School were centred on the construction of an accelerator that could operate at 2 GeV, that is, at twice the energy of the Birmingham proton synchrotron. Oliphant called the proposed accelerator a cyclo-synchrotron and described it in Nature in Although construction of the massive foundations and assembly of the ton magnet proceeded at a satisfactory rate, it became clear by that the US proton synchrotrons would outperform the Canberra cyclo- synchrotron before the latter could be completed.
Oliphant was forced to revise his plans and to increase the target energy to 10 GeV or more in order to remain competitive. His proposal was to convert the pole pieces and the main magnet of the cyclo- synchrotron into a homopolar generator HPG , which stored energy in massive steel discs rotating at rpm. Molten sodium jets would provide interconnections between the rotors using technology to be developed by E.
Ken Inall. The stored energy would be drawn as an electric current that would rise to about 1. The designed particle energy was 10 GeV, with an interval between pulses of 10 minutes compared with the 2 GeV pulses at second intervals of the cyclo-synchrotron. These changes were an ingenious solution to the problem of designing a particle accelerator that would be competitive because of its higher energy, but the competitiveness was achieved at the expense of a much slower pulse rate, which might make the machine very difficult to use for high-energy experiments.
The machine, although less complicated than the original design because of the separation of functions, made great demands on the design and construction staff, some of whom found the task before them daunting. Oliphant was more than ever in need of people who had 'fire in their bellies'. Trained in basic physics, Oliphant was a talented mechanical designer justifiably confident in his own natural ability.
He was a successful but demanding group leader, who inspired great loyalty in the staff who worked closely with him. He was generous and tolerant towards his staff to an extraordinary degree, but his tolerance had its limits and he had a wicked turn of phrase. This quest for knowledge and excellence took him to America where he found out that success in not an.
This quest for knowledge and excellence took him to America where he found out that success in not an easy journey and that life was more than physical science. Looking back at all his unique experiences in life, he pondered about the problems afflicting mankind for many years and came to a conclusion that humans living today should deeply think about. Satish C. Prasad was born in India. He wrote the book Review of Radiation Oncology Physics in We will send you an SMS containing a verification code.
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