National Physical Laboratory

Dr John Dunworth 1917–2017

Dr John Vernon Dunworth CB, CBE, whose death at the age of 100 years was announced recently, was Director of NPL from 1964 – 1976.

John Dunworth

Dr Dunworth was a nuclear physicist, raised in Manchester and educated at the University of Cambridge. Shortly before the outbreak of war in 1939, he was invited to become a member of Sir John Cockcroft's team investigating problems in the use of radar. He went to Canada in 1944 to work on atomic energy for the National Research Council.

In his early work, he developed and successfully applied the method of coincidence counting for the exploration of nuclear energy levels. His later work dealt with fuel cycles and the potentialities of thorium in the nuclear power field.

Dr Dunworth was the Deputy Director of the Atomic Energy Establishment when he was appointed Director of NPL in 1964. The 1960s heralded the rapid growth of what came to be known as 'big science', which included quantum physics, atomic energy, molecular science, modern computers and weapons technologies.

Upon taking up the directorship, Dunworth advocated the idea that NPL should be the national standards laboratory. This idea was greatly facilitated by the spread of scientific disciplines resulting from the merge between NPL and the National Chemical Laboratory in 1965.

Dr Dunworth was one of the first to recognise the growing need for collaboration in Europe between what at the time were known as the 'national standards laboratories', and he was one of the founders in 1974 of the Western European Metrology Club, the precursor of EURAMET.

He was also Vice-President of the International Committee for Weights and Measures (CIPM) from 1968–1975 and CIPM President from 1975–1985.

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Last Updated: 27 Apr 2017
Created: 26 Apr 2017

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