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UCL HEP Group History

18 Apr 2024

A History of Early High Energy Physics Research at UCL
Jim Grozier


This short history of HEP research at UCL in the approximate period 1950-65 is intended to supplement the comprehensive Departmental History by Bill Fox (for a link to Fox's history and other department-wide information, click here). Fox took an earlier history by Dudley Orson Wood (1888-1966) covering the period 1826-1950, and extended it, nominally to 1975, although it includes some references to work done, or changes in the Department, after that date.

The current work derives most of its content from oral history interviews I have conducted with current and retired members of the HEP Group, supplemented by information from, and links to, Fox where appropriate. I have also made use of general HEP histories such as Gordon Fraser's The Particle Century and Peter Galison's Image and Logic (both available from the Spreadbury Library).

Inasmuch as I have used information from Fox, I have also been forced to adopt his foibles, such as the (now rather quaint) practice of referring to men by surname and initials only, and women by full name. Where I have discovered the first names of the male characters, I have inserted them. However, the pressure to conform to the cultural norm of referring to men by surname only, and women by first name, is still so strong that there will undoubtedly be inconsistencies in my use of names.

Fox often locates historical events in terms of "quinquennia" (5-year periods) and so it is not always possible to give years, let alone dates.

Comprehensive details of experiments and their outcomes are often to be found in the Fox history. In order not to clutter this account with too much detail, I provide "further information" links to an edited copy of Fox, since I don't have direct access to the original. Hopefully these links will eventually be redirected to point to the original Fox pages.

Some additions or corrections to the Fox history have been suggested by my interviewees. I have inserted these into the copy of Fox, along with source details, so that whoever eventually updates the Fox account can incorporate them as footnotes.

A sensible starting point for this study is the year 1950, when Harrie Massey arrived in the Department from Mathematics.

The Massey Era

Harrie Stewart Wilson Massey replaced Edward Neville da Costa Andrade as Quain Professor (aka Head of the Physics Department) in 1950. Following Massey's appointment, Fox tells us that "a vigorous programme was initiated of theoretical and experimental research on many aspects of the physics of collisions both at low and high energies", although the Department was then in "makeshift accommodation" - the new Physics Building (where most of the Department is still located) was not completed until 1953.

Early appointments by Massey included those of H.S. (Harry) Tomlinson, Eric Burhop, Leonardo Castillejo, Ceiri Griffith and Franz Heymann. Already in the Department at that time were Cyril Dodd, who had been at UCL before the war and returned in 1945, R.E. (Dick) Jennings, and Cyril Henderson. Work started on a 4.5 MeV microtron, two high-pressure cloud chambers, and a magnetic lens to focus electrons of energy up to 4 MeV.

This history is arranged in roughly chronological order, and is subdivided into topics roughly corresponding to the various research groups in existence at various times. Click on one of the following links for more details.

Cloud Chambers



Bubble Chambers

Spark Chambers


Particle Paraphernalia