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Patrick Blackett and work with cloud chambers (Part 1)

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Patrick Blackett takes over from Lawrence Bragg at Manchester
Bernard Lovell Astronomer
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And then another remarkable thing happened, which again changed my life. Bragg decided to leave Manchester and to accept an appointment as Director of the National Physical Laboratory. Now to save any confusion I will say straight away that Bragg only occupied the post of Director of the NPL for about a year. He then succeeded Rutherford as the Cavendish Professor, so he will be remembered as the Cavendish Professor and it may be forgotten that he did spend about a year as a Director of the NPL. Well, there was great interest and rumours as to who would succeed Bragg as the Langworthy Professor of Physics and director of the physics laboratory. An amazing succession, Schuster, Rutherford, Bragg. Who would succeed him? The various rumours- Chadwick for example was mentioned who discovered the neutron but Hartree then informed me that Blackett had been appointed to succeed Bragg. Now this was an amazing change. Hartree had said that he had written to Blackett and thought that this boy Lovell would be interested in carrying on research on cosmic rays in Manchester, and so Blackett asked me to go to London and take over a marvellous device, an automatic cloud chamber, which had been used by one of his Chinese students, Yu Shien Shan who decided to return to China in order to help in the war against Japan. It was by the end of- so I collected this equipment and got it transported to Manchester, and by the time Blackett arrived at the end of 1936 or 7, 1937, I had this expansion chamber working in the Schuster Building. Now then became a very exciting couple of years. I ought to say that my association with Blackett became lifelong, and he will- I will say a bit about him now, because his name will appear frequently in the account of my life. He had been a Naval Lieutenant in the war. Those whose career had been interrupted, The Royal Navy allowed them to return to complete their education and Blackett went back to Cambridge and spent one night there and immediately decided to resign his commission and work with Rutherford, and it was there that he did this famous work in the Rutherford Laboratories on the display and disintegration of an atom in the cloud chamber and then the discovery of the positive electron with Occhialini, and he then had some disagreement with Rutherford and got the job as professor in the Birkbeck College, London, which was then really a college for night students, and Blackett had built an enormous electron magnet in which he could place his cloud chamber, and thereby from the curvature of the tracks measure the energy of the particles. And it was that great enterprise in which I became deeply involved in Manchester in 1938 and 1939.

Bernard Lovell (1913-2012), British radio astronomer and founder of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, received an OBE in 1946 for his work on radar, and was knighted in 1961 for his contribution to the development of radio astronomy. He obtained a PhD in 1936 at the University of Bristol. His steerable radio telescope, which tracked Sputnik across the sky, is now named the Lovell telescope.

Listeners: Alastair Gunn Megan Argo

Alastair Gunn is an astrophysicist at Jodrell Bank Observatory, University of Manchester. He is responsible for the coordination and execution of international radio astronomical observations at the institute and his professional research concerns the extended atmospheres of highly active binary stars. Alastair has a deep interest and knowledge of the history of radio astronomy in general and of Jodrell Bank in particular. He has written extensively about Jodrell Bank's history.

Megan Argo is an astronomer at the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory researching supernovae and star formation in nearby starburst galaxies. As well as research, she is involved with events in the Observatory's Visitor Centre explaining both astronomy and the history of the Observatory to the public.

Tags: Manchester, National Physical Laboratory, Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge, China, Japan, World War II, Schuster Building, Royal Navy, Cambridge University, Birkbeck College, London, Lawrence Bragg, Ernest Rutherford, Arthur Schuster, James Chadwick, Douglas Hartree, Patrick Blackett, Yu Shien Shan, Giuseppe Occhialini

Duration: 4 minutes, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2007

Date story went live: 05 September 2008