A Life in Science

A Life in Science

A Life in Science

A Life in Science

Synopsis

The late Sir Nevill Mott was one of Britain's greatest ever and most admired scientists. A physicist of great repute he was Britain's last Nobel Prize winner for Physics. This landmark book, published to celebrate Mott's 90th Birthday in 1995, explores the life and work of one of our best physicists.

Excerpt

Why did I write this book? It is because I have lived through a heroic period in the development of science, and was associated particularly with the beginnings of solid state physics. The most dramatic story in twentieth century physics is that of Rutherford's discovery of the nucleus, leading to the discovery of the neutron, nuclear fission and the demonstration by Frisch and Peierls that a uranium bomb could be made. The effects on warfare have been potentially enormous. The story has often been told and biographies of many of the chief protagonists abound. Less has been written about the beginnings of solid state physics. None the less it could be said that microelectronics, based on solid state physics, has affected our civilisation hardly less profoundly. Telecommunications, the computer, automation all depend on it, as does advanced military technology. Many benefits have come from all this and some damage, including an increase in unemployment, one hopes temporary, where electronics has taken over from men and women.

Those who put together the ideas on which all this was based could foresee little or nothing of the consequences, particularly up till the beginning of the war of 1939-45. Our reasons for choosing to study this subject will be a major theme of this book, since I believe that my own experience throws light on it. After the war we knew only too well that what we had done was of industrial and military importance and we saw, mainly in the USA, the development of the transistor and all that followed from it. I shall explain how this affected my attitude to collaboration with industry.

Since this is an autobiography, I shall describe how a life in science affected my attitude to other matters. Our Cambridge colleges are dedicated to Education, Religion, Learning and Research, and since all have been my concern, I have written about them. I have tried to write as far as possible without the use of technical language, especially when describing research, in the hope that 60 years in physics may be of interest to some readers outside this particular discipline.

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