Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of ROBERT WILLIAM DITCHBURN FRS (1903 - 1987)
|Title:||Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of ROBERT WILLIAM DITCHBURN FRS (1903 - 1987)|
SECTION A BIOGRAPHICAL NCUACS 6/5/88/A.1-NCUACS 6/5/88/A.43
SECTION B PUBLICATIONS AND LECTURES NCUACS 6/5/88/B.1-NCUACS 6/5/88/B.59
SECTION C DIAMOND CONSULTANCY With an introductory note NCUACS 6/5/88/C.1-NCUACS 6/5/88/C.22
SECTION D SCIENTIFIC CORRESPONDENCE NCUACS 6/5/88/D.1-NCUACS 6/5/88/D.34
SECTION E NON-PRINT MATERIAL NCUACS 6/5/88/E.1-NCUACS 6/5/88/E.11
The collection, although small in size, offers a respectable amount of biographical material, material relating to Ditchburn's principal publications and diamond research at Reading and some scientific correspondence.
Section A, Biographical, consists of Ditchburn's own material relating to his career, including curricula vitae and a typescript copy of his 'Reminiscences' for The Making of Physicists, and letters containing the recollections of colleagues, students and friends sent to G W Series while he was compiling the Royal Society memoir. The final draft of the memoir is at NCUACS 6/5/88/A.1.
Section B, Publications and Lectures, comprises a chronological sequence of notes, drafts, correspondence and other material relating to Ditchburn's publications and lectures. Unfortunately his university lectures and seminars are represented only by NCUACS 6/5/88/B.4, a notebook for lectures given by Ditchburn probably while professor at Trinity College Dublin.
There is a considerable body of material relating to the English language editions of Light (NCUACS 6/5/88/B.8-NCUACS 6/5/88/B.30).
At the end of the sequence is a small subsection (NCUACS 6/5/88/B.57-NCUACS 6/5/88/B.59) devoted to Ditchburn's work for the Pugwash movement, principally papers and lecture notes on armaments and energy.
Section C, Diamond Consultancy, is a chronologically presented sequence of, mainly, correspondence between Ditchburn and colleagues in South Africa regarding progress in research at Reading.
Section D, Scientific Correspondence, consists of letters arranged alphabetically by correspondent, chiefly about light and vision. It includes a 1935 letter from Sir J Chadwick (NCUACS 6/5/88/D.8) thanking Ditchburn for recommending him for the Nobel Prize in Physics which he received that year. Also of interest is a letter Ditchburn sent in 1975 to the Burmah Oil Company suggesting that their investment in research into achieving nuclear fusion through laser systems was unlikely to have any commercially viable result (NCUACS 6/5/88/D.6).
At NCUACS 6/5/88/D.12 is 1970 correspondence with D Fishlock, science correspondent of the Financial Times, who enquired about a second world war government campaign encouraging the consumption of carrots as an aid to night vision.
Section E, Non-print material, is largely group photographs taken at various conferences. There is also a photograph of students at the Cavendish Laboratory 1927 (NCUACS 6/5/88/E.1). NCUACS 6/5/88/E.11 is a tape-recording of a lecture by Ditchburn on Sir J J Thomson.
|Held by:||University of Reading: Special Collections, not available at The National Archives|
OUTLINE OF THE CAREER OF R W DITCHBURN
Robert William Ditchburn was born in Waterloo, Lancashire, in 1903. He attended Bootle Grammar School (where his father, who graduated in Physics from the University of London, was Headmaster) from 1911. At the age of 16 Ditchburn won a Bibby Scholarship to Liverpool University where he was exempted from the first year course because he held a Higher School Certificate in relevant subjects.
Ditchburn passed the Ordinary Degree in Mathematics and Physics in 1920 and gained his BSc Honours in Physics in 1922. He also was successful in the Cambridge University Scholarship Examination and was admitted to Trinity College the same year. As he already had a degree in Physics Ditchburn was excused Part I of the Tripos. He graduated in 1924.
In 1923 Ditchburn had won a four year Senior Scholarship and this, together with the Isaac Newton Scholarship held 1925-28 and various academic prizes, enabled him to study for his PhD at the Cavendish Laboratory under Sir J J Thomson, its former Head.
Apparently with no great hope of success Ditchburn applied for a fellowship at Trinity College Dublin in 1928. He was in fact elected and a year later was appointed Erasmus Smith's Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy at Dublin University. Also in 1929 Ditchburn married Doreen Barrett. They remained in Dublin until 1946, except for three years from 1942 during which Ditchburn served as Principal Experimental Officer at the Admiralty Research Laboratory, Teddington.
Ditchburn returned to England in 1946 to take up the Chair of Physics at Reading University. As Head of the Department he oversaw a considerable growth in the study of physics at the University; from 1946 to his retirement in 1968 the staff of the Department increased from three to over thirty. This expansion, which Ditchburn himself thought his single most important contribution to science, culminated in the opening in 1960 of the J J Thomson Physical Laboratory, built on the new Whiteknights site.
An important field of study of the Physics Department, initiated at the suggestion of Sir Francis Simon in 1953, was diamond research, particularly the investigation of the effects of radiation on diamonds. In the years thereafter the University of Reading was to assume a prominent position in this field.
In 1956 Ditchburn was instrumental in forming an international Diamond Research Committee, acting as chairman from its inception until 1982. He served as a consultant on diamonds to De Beers and helped to establish a sound administrative base for the company's research into synthesising diamonds, a project which was eventually successful.
Ditchburn retired in 1968 though he remained active in the fields of diamond research and optics. He also found time to research the illness of Sir Isaac Newton, disputing the suggestion that he died of mercury poisoning.
At about this time Ditchburn became strongly committed to the Pugwash movement and attended the 1967 conference in Sweden. He produced a number of papers for Pugwash meetings on the subject of armaments and the energy crisis.
Ditchburn's Royal Society memorialist identifies his principal research areas as the photo-ionization of gases and vapours, other absorption processes relevant to the upper atmosphere, the optical properties of solids, (especially diamonds) and the effect of eye movements on visual perception. His most important publication, Light, was first published in 1952 and, with revised editions 1963 and 1976, became a standard textbook dealing with all aspects of the subject.
His interest in eye movements may have been inspired by his wartime research at Teddington. In his later years Ditchburn concentrated on this topic, publishing his second major work, Eye Movements and Visual Perception, in 1973, five years after retirement.
Ditchburn's scientific achievements were recognised with numerous honours and awards. He was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Irish Academy 1930, serving on its council twice, 1933-1939 and 1942-1943. He was made a Fellow of both the Physical Society (1943) and the Institute of Physics (1949). In 1952-1955 he was on the council of the Physical Society and was vice-president 1958-1960, delivering the Society's Thomas Young Oration in 1959. Ditchburn then served a further two years as vice-president of the newly-merged Physical Society and Institute of Physics.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society 1962 and served on several of its committees. He was also on the British National Committees for Physics, Astronomy and Radio-Science and the National Subcommittee for Optics 1948-1966 (chairman from 1961).
In addition to these and other positions and honours Ditchburn was a Fellow of the Optical Society of America and in 1983 was awarded the prestigious C E X Mees Medal for his contribution to optics research.
|Immediate Source Of Acquisition:||
Compiled by Peter Harper and Timothy E. Powell
The work of the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, and the production of this catalogue, are made possible by the support of the following societies and organisations:
The Biochemical Society
The British Library
The City of Bath
The Geological Society
The Institute of Physics
The Royal Society
The Royal Society of Chemistry
The Society of Chemical Industry
We are very grateful to Mrs Doreen Ditchburn for making available her husband's papers, and to Professor G W Series for a draft of his Royal Society memoir and the material assembled for it."
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