Sir Har­rie Massey

His af­fec­tion for physics and maths reaped ben­e­fits for the en­tire world

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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

col­li­sion the­ory

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