IRDP: my famous relations (5)

in history •  2 months ago

Another one in my series of (distant) relations with a claim to fame.

Patrick Maynard Stuart BLACKETT


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cir. 1950
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Baron Blackett of Chelsea
(b. 18 Nov 1897, London; d. 13 Jul 1974, London)
'The father of operational research.'

Military Service
“You can't run a war on gusts of emotion.” ~ Blackett.
He participated in both WWI and WWII.
WWI - the 1911 census shows Patrick - aged just 13 years - as a cadet at the Royal Naval College in Hampshire; and when war broke out he joined as a naval officer, rising to the rank of Lieutenant before resigning, once the war was over, for more academic pursuits.
WWII - once this war began, he signed up to be a part of the Instrument Section of the Royal Aircraft Establishment team. He also formed an operational research group for the analytical study of the anti U-boat war, also becoming Director of Naval Operational Research at the Admiralty and Scientific Advisor to General Pile, C.M.C., Anti-Aircraft Command. (source)

In between WWI and II, he had been conducting much scientific research in the field of physics. Patrick worked with distinguished people, such as Ernest Rutherford, James Franck (also Nobel prizewinners), and Giuseppe Occhialini. He also obtained a Bachelor's degree, and then qualified as a Professor of Physics.
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lecturing in India, cir. 1954 (photographer unknown)
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He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1948:

"for his development of the Wilson cloud chamber method, and his discoveries therewith in the fields of nuclear physics and cosmic radiation."
source

Although he apparently turned down most offers, other achievements and awards he did accept included:

  • 1940 - Royal Medal, from the Royal Society
  • 1946 - American Medal for Merit
  • 1956 - Order of Companions of Honour
  • 1967 - Order of Merit
  • 1969 - Baron Blackett of Chelsea (a lifetime peerage)
  • 20 honourary degrees/academic memberships across 11 countries worldwide

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(no image source link, as blocked by virus scanner)

His scientific studies included working with or on:

  • ionised particles
  • the cloud chamber
  • Geiger counter
  • subatomic particles
  • radar technology
  • paleomagnetism (Earth's magnetic forces, and continental drift)
  • transmuting one element into another
  • positron
  • cosmic rays

During WWII he became increasingly concerned over operational matters such as the way military bombing methods targeted civilian areas, and he was also becoming increasingly more socially conscious (a 'leftie') and campaigned against nuclear weapons. This put him out of favour with the military, so he focused on his academia; until, during the 1960s when the Labour Party came to power, and he found himself back in favour. He was intrumental in the creation of the government's Ministry of Technology during this time.

Some interesting trivia:

While conducting research at Cambridge, it is believed that a young, distraught graduate student named J. Robert Oppenheimer attempted to poison Blackett with an apple laced with toxic chemicals. Blackett was Oppenheimber’s head tutor at the time, and Oppenheimer found Blackett to be brilliant but also extremely demanding. Blackett insisted that Oppenheimer spend more time doing lab work while Oppenheimer believed his time and talents should be devoted to theoretical physics. Eventually, the stress of graduate work led Oppenheimer to seek psychiatric help, and it was around this time that he allegedly presented his tutor with the toxic apple. Blackett did not eat the apple, and the whole scandal became muddied by conflicting stories. Ultimately, little came of the attempted poisoning. Both Blackett and Oppenheimer would become renowned physicists in their own scientific spheres.
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He wrote and published several books, including:
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published 1948
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I have barely skimmed the surface of all his work (pretty technical stuff) and accomplishments. Reading the links will give you a much deeper sense of what he achieved.
Needless to say, he was a truly remarkable man.
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photo by Lucia Moholy, 1936
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Notes:
Patrick's parents were:
Blackett, Arthur Stuart (b. 1865, Kensington; d. 1922, Hindhead; a stockbroker)
Maynard, Caroline Frances (b. 1868, Edinburgh; d. 1960, London)

He had two siblings (sisters):
Blackett, Winifred Maynard (b. 1895, Fleet; d. 1969)
Blackett, Nina Marion (b. 1900, Kensington; d. 1998, London) - psychoanalysist and author, who also wrote under the pen name Joanna Field

Patrick married during 1924 in Florence (Italy), to:
BAYON, Eva Constanza Bernadina de (b. 1899; d. 1986, Llanfrothen)

They had two children:
Blackett, Giovanna (b. 1926, Cambridge)
Blackett, Nicholas Maynard (b. 1928, Cambridge; d. 2002, Merton)

'Blackett's Circus' - a name given to a group of eccentric and eclectic academics working on Operational Research, who came up with innovative ideas during WWII to beat the German U-Boats, for example.
He is quoted as saying,
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from: The Pleasures of Counting, by T. W. Körner (p.g 57)
Google Books

In his honour:

  • Blackett Memorial Hall and Blackett lecture theatre (University of Manchester, England)
  • the Blackett Laboratory - Physics department building of London's Imperial College
  • the Moon's crater Blackett is named after him
  • an English Heritage Blue Plaque has been placed on the house where he lived for a time (it is a rare double-blue plaque as another Nobel recipient also resided there for a while)

He's been imortalised in cartoon form:
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Bibliography:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Blackett

https://www.atomicheritage.org/profile/patrick-blackett

https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/1948/blackett/biographical/

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/1475-3995.00417

http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/4f193250-cc85-4fb4-81b8-8d2ca592fb90

https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/patrick-blackett-7622.php

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinion/blacketts-war-the-men-who-defeated-the-nazi-u-boats-and-brought-science-to-the-art-of-warfare-by-stephen-budiansky/2013/03/29/3083879a-75ee-11e2-8f84-3e4b513b1a13_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.6bd5f30defc4


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(extra tags: #physics #irdp #life #blog)

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Interesting post - WWII was such an interesting time for science. Seems so much new was being figured out. Also interesting so many of the scientists became advocates against war.

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Yes, I guess you get an entirely different perspective from behind the curtain.