Sir Harrie Massey
His affection for physics and maths reaped benefits for the entire world
Sir Harrie Stewart Wilson Massey FRS, the Australian mathematical physicist, dedicated his life’s work to understanding the behaviour of subatomic particles. In a time when the theory of quantum mechanics was being born, Massey’s contributions, particularly regarding collision theory, were incredibly influential and very well received among the scientific community.
Born on 16 May 1908 in Invermay, Victoria, Australia, Massey excelled throughout his education, and was able to get into Melbourne University as part of a government scholarship at the age of just 16. While at Melbourne University he gained a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Physics, a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Pure and Applied Mathematics and a Master of Science (MSc) degree in Physics, as there was no PhD offered at the time. All of this occurred over the span of four years.
In August 1929, Massey was awarded the University’s Aitchison travelling scholarship, which led him to the esteemed Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge,
England. The Nobel Laureate
Ernest Rutherford was leading the institution at the time, a man who is widely referred to as the ‘Father of Nuclear Physics’. The year 1932 came and Massey completed his PhD on ‘The Collisions of Material Particles’.
Massey was producing scientific paper publications at a incredibly impressive rate while at Cambridge, and in 1933 he collaborated with future Nobel Prize-winner Sir
Nevill Mott on the book titled Theory of Atomic Collisions. This book became extremely popular, as it outlined different ways of treating the collisions of quantum particles. In the same year, Massey departed Cambridge and became an independent lecturer in Mathematical Physics at the
Queen’s University of Belfast, Northern Ireland.
At Queen’s University Massey proved to be an excellent lecturer while also continuing to write many publications about collision theory and negative ions. After half a decade, the University College London (UCL) requested that he became their Goldsmid professor, to which he obliged. However, his tenure was cut short, as it wasn’t long after the Second World War broke out and the United Kingdom required his intelligence and ingenuity in order to defend the country's people.
The efforts of Massey and his colleagues led to a clever invention that protected British ships against magnetic mines. Eventually, Massey ended up as the chief scientist at the Mine Design Department in Havant, Hampshire, England. His efforts were needed elsewhere, though, as Massey then travelled to Berkley, California, United States to be part of a team of British scientists that contributed to the development of the atomic bomb, also known as the Manhattan Project. On his eventual return in 1945, Massey went back to the mathematics department of a damaged UCL.
He then became the Quain Professor of Physics in 1950, where he enjoyed the latter end of his fruitful and incredible career, prior to retiring in 1975. Upon reflection of his career and his contributions to science, there is no doubt that Massey should be considered a Hero of Space, as his work on subatomic particles has helped scientists to understand the elusive nature of quantum particles to this very day. This is shown in his honours, such as the Hughes Medal awarded in 1955, which has been won by famous scientists such as Max Born, Enrico Fermi and Stephen Hawking. Arguably the most prestigious award he was presented was his Royal Medal, awarded in 1958. Massey passed away in 1983, aged 75.
“Massey was producing scientific paper publications at an incredibly impressive rate”
Massey’s work was highly concentrated on the atomic