The Secret Life of Walter Mott


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The idea was proposed by Professor E. Ted also compiled and edited the volume. It is with particular gratitude that this preface is written. I remember my first encounter with Nevill, having only joined the company a short while earlier. I passed him in the corridor and he asked me my name and what I did. I told him and he replied with vigour that he was sure I would enjoy my time here. There are many reminiscenses of people who met and worked with Nevill. The contributions made by all his friends and colleagues provide the reader with an insight into his character.

Tony Selvey xi Introduction Edward A. The staggering length of his scientific career—his first paper was published in during the early days of quantum theory and his last on hightemperature superconductivity in , four months after his death—must be unprecedented, and the range of his contributions to physics possibly unequalled. He was the author of at least fifteen books and over three hundred scientific papers, covering a range of topics as diverse as wave mechanics, nuclear physics, the properties of metals, ionic crystals, semiconductors and glasses, and the nature of superconductivity.


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Nevill Mott was a theoretical physicist, a label far too narrow and restrictive to describe the extent of his activities and the sphere of his influence. His mind was his principal filing cabinet. In these ways he drew together ideas and people from different disciplines in a unique manner. Early Years It was natural that Mott should take an early interest in physics.

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Thomson, Miss Slater, P. Bevan, O. Richardson; middle row W. Mackower, A. Wood, S. Laws, R. McClung, F. Horton, H. Cooke, N. Campbell, J. Field; back row J. Satterly, G. Hosking, T. Vinycomb, G. Owen, P. Barlow; seated on the ground E. Harrison and S. Introduction in In his autobiography, A Life in Science, he records that quite early in his life his parents communicated to him the excitement and importance of physics.

His mother taught him at home until he was 10, when he became a weekly boarder at a small preparatory school near Stafford. Before he left that school at age 13 he was, according to his own words, advanced in algebra and Latin and had been introduced to calculus.

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Beaven, instilled in him the beauty of mathematics. Later he recalled the excitement he felt when, at about age 16, he realised why any number raised to the power nought equalled unity! In spite of his mathematical ability, Mott was never tempted to be a pure mathematician; physics was his main interest. His first research was undertaken when he was an undergraduate.

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In the absence of any real suggestions from the head of theoretical physics at the Cavendish, Ralph Fowler, he set about finding his own problem, which he decided should be on the application of wave mechanics to the scattering of charged particles—an active area of experimental investigations led by Ernest Rutherford. This work was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. At Copenhagen he discussed with Niels Bohr the startling prediction of Dirac in Cambridge that the electron carried a spin and he began work on a related problem.

Bragg, which he accepted. A course of lectures he gave there on wave mechanics led to his first book, An Outline of Wave Mechanics, written at age It was at Manchester where his interest turned to the properties of materials, stimulated no doubt by the power of the new technique of X-ray crystallography to determine the structure of solids, a method which earned W. An invitation to return to Cambridge came in and Mott accepted a xiv Introduction Nevill age Nevill seated with Japanese scientists.

Now married, he found that theoretical physicists were rather more respected than when he had first entered the Cavendish. Nevertheless, the prime interest there was still in atomic physics and was the annus mirabilis of the Cavendish, when the neutron was discovered, the atom split and the positron positive electron was first observed, as predicted by Dirac.

Stimulated by this extraordinary atmosphere and a suggestion by Fowler that he should write a book on atomic collisions, Mott collaborated with Harrie Massey to produce The Theory of Atomic Collisions, a classic tome which ran to several editions. For six years up to the outbreak of the Second World War, he played a significant role in establishing Bristol as one of the foremost centres for solid-state physics.

His philosophy, which he never abandoned during the remainder of his life, was to have theoreticians and experimentalists working closely together. Although many today see the advantages of such a liaison, it has never been easy to implement such a policy. At Bristol he deliberately avoided setting up separate departments for theorists and experimentalists, a distinctive approach compared with other centres of learning. Great success had been achieved in Europe, particularly in Germany, by the application of quantum mechanics to explain the properties of metals and the difference between metals and semiconductors.

The work of Sommerfield, Bloch, Peierls and Bethe was especially successful and Mott set about continuing this tradition. Strange as it may now seem to the hundreds of solid-state physicists who learned their basic quantum mechanics of solids from this work, the book was not that well received by other theorists, being criticised for lack of rigour. What in fact we see in this book is mathematics applied to the direct interpretation of experimental data, interspersed with bold intuitive ideas which leapfrog the formal development when the rigorous mathematical treatment fails.

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From recent accounts of members of the Bristol research group, Mott provided a stimulating atmosphere, which they recall with fond memories. At miniconferences, which he organised with flair and a great sense of timing, xvi Introduction Nevill in the early s. Numerous problems and puzzling properties of metals were solved at Bristol during those heady days, advancing the subject and providing much benefit to industrial metallurgists. In those six prewar years at Bristol, Mott did not confine his attention to understanding the physics of metals.

He began his first work on semiconductors, a field to which he was to remain attached for many more decades—in fact well into his retirement. The initial stimulus came from Ronald Gurney, who had arrived from Manchester and who, like Mott, had a remarkable talent for visualising solids in terms of their constituent atoms and electron waves, without the need for detailed mathematics.

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Together they laid the foundation of the xvii Introduction field of colour centres in alkali halides by providing a description of the defects involved in terms of negative ion vacancies. They also worked out the physics behind the photographic process—why light falling on a grain of silver bromide was able to produce a speck of silver—the latent image.

Four years earlier, at the age of 31, he had been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He and his wife, Ruth, with help from his sister, Joan, housed two young refugees, daughters of a Jewish musician. Lilly and Use Spielmann, who stayed in England after the war, recall their gratitude to this day. The War and Return to Bristol During the Second World War, Mott was involved in various defence projects relating to radar, shell fragmentation, the deployment of searchlights and to mathematical research on armaments generally.

He succeeded Blackett as scientific adviser to a commanding officer in When he discovered that the number of enemy aircraft destroyed by British fire was being overestimated by quite a large factor, his commander told him that he must not disclose his findings until after the war was over. He wrote a paper on why German shells, which were made of steel with a high carbon content, fragmented into smaller pieces than the British shells.

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Apparently, memoranda on this still survive in American ordnance laboratories. At about the same time, the Royal Society awarded him their prestigious Hughes medal for his work before the war. He assumed the headship in and immediately set about appointing new staff. Many of the scientists at Bristol before the war, e.


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All these workers by their individual and joint efforts once again made Bristol Physics xviii Introduction Nevill with his famous briefcase at a conference in Garmisch-Partenkirchen Department into a leading research group. In Mott published his first paper on metal-insulator transitions, a topic that retained his interest to the end of his life.

This was the period which saw the invention of the transistor at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in America and Mott took a keen interest in this development. He was later to propose a theory for what became known as Mott-Schottky barriers in semiconductors. He became Dean of the Faculty of Science, served on government committees and was appointed President of the Physical Society, overseeing its amalgamation with the xix Introduction Institute of Physics.

He recalls in his autobiography that he was not too happy at the thought of leaving Bristol but felt he could not turn down the offer to follow in the footsteps of James Clerk Maxwell, Lord Rayleigh, J. Thomson, Ernest Rutherford and Lawrence Bragg, the previous holders of this prestigious chair. It might seem strange that the title of Professor of Experimental Physics should be offered to a theorist but, apart from Rutherford, none of the previous incumbents had been principally experimentalists.

On his appointment, Professor Fred Seitz, the American solid-state physicist, wrote: Dear Mott For several weeks there has been a consistent report that you have accepted the appointment as director of the Cavendish Laboratory. Deepest congratulations. During our sojourn in Tokyo I made bets with our colleagues that this would occur, since it was the most logical solution of the issue. Either my judgement is lucky or very profound. Undoubtedly, this means that you will be very busy during the summer and that we will catch only fleeting glimpses of you at the various meetings.

In any case, we all hope that Bristol will manage to hold its level and remain the very fine center of research which you have made it.

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His first contact was with the Administrative Secretary of the department. Reform of the Natural Sciences Tripos, which permitted undergraduates to specialise in physics at an earlier stage of their studies than had been possible previously, was one of his missions. Another was to change the physical sciences curriculum in schools through the Nuffield Foundation. A compromise was called for, and to a large extent a successful solution was found. As a member of the General Board and the Council of Senate, both influential bodies of the University, Mott steered through important decisions, not least the creation of the first science park by Trinity College, which attracted science-based industries to the city.

The Secret Life of Walter Mott The Secret Life of Walter Mott
The Secret Life of Walter Mott The Secret Life of Walter Mott
The Secret Life of Walter Mott The Secret Life of Walter Mott
The Secret Life of Walter Mott The Secret Life of Walter Mott
The Secret Life of Walter Mott The Secret Life of Walter Mott
The Secret Life of Walter Mott The Secret Life of Walter Mott
The Secret Life of Walter Mott The Secret Life of Walter Mott

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