Harrie Massey

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Harrie Massey
Born (1908-05-16)16 May 1908
St. Kilda, Melbourne, Australia
Died 27 November 1983(1983-11-27) (aged 75)
Cambridge, UK
Residence UK
Nationality Australian
Fields Physicist
Institutions Queen's University of Belfast
Cambridge University
University College London
Alma mater University of Melbourne
Cambridge University
Doctoral advisor Ralph Fowler
Doctoral students Alexander Dalgarno
David Robert Bates
Ian Sloan
Michael Seaton[citation needed]

Sir Harrie Stewart Wilson Massey FRS[1] (16 May 1908 – 27 November 1983) was an influential Australian mathematical physicist. He worked primarily in the fields of atomic and atmospheric physics.

Life and career[edit]

Harrie Massey was born in St. Kilda, Melbourne, Australia, but grew up in the rural community of Hoddles Creek. Massey enrolled in the local state school in 1913. At the age of 16 he won a Senior Government Scholarship to the University of Melbourne. There he studied physics and chemistry and graduated with a first class honours BSc in 1927. He stayed on to study Pure and Applied Mathematics and was awarded another first class degree, a BA, in 1929. At that time, the university did not offer a PhD program but, clearly gifted, he took on an MSc with both experimental and theoretical components. The former dealt with soft X-ray deflection from metal surfaces and the latter with wave mechanics. His external examiner was Ralph Fowler from the University of Cambridge who was Paul Dirac's PhD supervisor.

In 1929, with the benefit of another scholarship, Massey went to Trinity College, Cambridge to perform research at the Cavendish Laboratory led by Ernest Rutherford. Fowler was appointed as Massey's supervisor although it was clear that he did not need any supervision per se. Massey obtained his PhD on the The Collision of Material Particles in 1932.[2] He co-authored a book on atomic collision processes with Nevill Mott shortly afterwards.[3] In 1933 he became an Independent Lecturer in Mathematical Physics at the Queen's University of Belfast. During his tenure he wrote his second book, Negative Ions, and began working on upper atmospheric physics.[4] Massey was appointed Goldsmid Professor of Applied Mathematics at University College London five years later. This was to create a strong academic link between QUB and UCL which persists to this day.

During the Second World War he worked for the Admiralty Mining Establishment where he helped to develop protection for shipping against magnetic mines.[4] In 1941 he was appointed Deputy Chief Scientist at the Mine Design Department in Havant, and was promoted to Chief Scientist in 1943.[4] He had a great influence on the future careers of nearly every scientist that worked there including David Bates, who was invited to join the staff at UCL, and Robert Boyd, who was offered a research assistant post. Francis Crick was introduced to Maurice Wilkins by Massey. Massey left the Admiralty in 1943 to join the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research mission at Berkeley, California, in connection with the Manhattan Project.[4]

Following the retirement of Edward Andrade Massey was appointed Quain Professor of Physics and head of the UCL Physics department in 1950.[4] He remained its head after the department was merged with Astronomy in 1973 and retired in 1975.

Massey was the first chairman of the British National Committee for Space Research, the first Chairman of the European Space Sciences Committee, the first Chairman of the Council for Scientific Policy and helped found the European Space Research Organization as well as the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at UCL.

Honours & awards[edit]

Massey has a number of awards named after him;

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bates, D.; Boyd, R.; Davis, D. G. (1984). "Harrie Stewart Wilson Massey. 16 May 1908-27 November 1983". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 30: 444. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1984.0016.  edit
  2. ^ Harrie Massey at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  3. ^ Seaton, M. J. (December 1984). "Obituary: Sir Harrie Massey, FRS". QJRAS 25 (4): 530–532. Bibcode:1984QJRAS..25..530S. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Obituary: Professor Sir Harrie Massey". The Times (London). 2 December 1983. p. 18. 


  • Mott, NF; Massey, HSW (1949). Theory of Atomic Collisions. Clarendon Press, Oxford.  (1st edition, 1933)
  • Massey, HSW; Kestelman, H (1964). Ancillary Mathematics (2nd ed. ed.). Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons Ltd. 
  • Massey, HSW (1982). Applied Atomic Physics Processes. Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-419951-8. 
  • Massey, HSW; Robins, MO (1986). History of British space science. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-30783-X. 

External links[edit]