National Physical Laboratory

Sir Charles Galton Darwin

Charles Darwin

Darwin was educated at Marlborough College and Trinity College, Cambridge before joining Ernest Rutherford and Niels Bohr as the Arthur Schuster Lecturer in Mathematical Physics at Manchester 1910-12. He worked with H G J Mosley on the diffraction of X-rays for two years.

During the First World War he mainly worked on sound-ranging and flash spotting as he served with the Royal Engineers as an Officer in a field survey unit in France. This work frequently led him into dangerous situations; this was later recognised by the award of a Military Cross. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1922.

Darwin returned to Cambridge as Master of Christ's College in 1936, but he left this post two years later to become the fourth Director of NPL. When the Second World War broke out nine months later, spent most of his time reorganising NPL to play its part in the conflict.

View a form signed by Charles Darwin in 1939

In 1941, he took up an important post as the first Director of the British Central Scientific Office, an organisation tasked with maintaining liaison between the scientific war effort of Britain and the USA. Upon returning to NPL the following year, he was almost immediately appointed Scientific Advisor to the War Office.

Although it was only after 1945 that he was able to give NLP his undivided attention, during his period as Director he created three new divisions (Light, Mathematics and Autonomics).

During the war, security requirements had led to individuals becoming very isolated in their work and ceasing to share knowledge between divisions. By 1945, Darwin decided it was essential to reverse this tendency and set up the Laboratory Liaison Committee to establish a full interchange of information. There were 20 'colloquia' meetings held between 1945 and 1949, which constituted discussions on specific scientific subjects by individuals with specialised knowledge. Information meetings were also held to provide more general descriptions of the organisation and work of larger scientific units so that all members of staff could see how their divisions fitted into NPL as a whole.

Darwin was the President of various societies including the Physical Society (1941-44) and the Eugenics Society (1953-59). He received the KBE 1942 and also received honorary degrees from Manchester, St Andrew's College, and Trinity College, Dublin.

After his retirement from NPL, Darwin was a member of the Executive Committee from 1953-1959. He died in Cambridge three years later.

Last Updated: 1 Jul 2015
Created: 19 Apr 2010

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