Ronald Ernest Aitchison

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Ronald Aitchison
Born (1921-12-29)29 December 1921
Hurstville, NSW, Australia
Died 1996
Residence Australia
Nationality Australian
Alma mater University of Sydney
Known for Solid-state physics
Awards Fulbright scholarship
Scientific career
Fields Physics and Electronic Engineering
Institutions Macquarie University
Academic advisors Victor Albert Bailey
Doctoral students Peter Harold Cole
Other notable students F. J. Duarte

Ronald Ernest Aitchison (1921–1996), was born in Hurstville, NSW, Australia on 29 December 1921. From 1942 to 1945 Ron worked as an engineer with the Amalgamated Wireless Valve Company on the design and production of klystrons and radar magnetrons, which were new devices important to the war effort. He was also involved in work on semiconductor diodes, which were the forerunners of the revolution in electronics brought about by the advent of solid-state semiconductor components. In 1945 he joined the National Acoustic Laboratories where he worked on the design and construction of hearing aids for children.

Aitchison was appointed as senior lecturer in Communications Engineering at the University of Sydney, which was the start of his 25-year teaching experience at that institution, culminating in his appointment as associate professor. His interest in solid-state physics took him to Bristol University, UK, for a year, and he also spent a year at Stanford University, California, on a Fulbright scholarship, working at the forefront of electronics research. In 1970, he accepted an offer from Macquarie University to become the founding professor of electronics and took up the post in 1971. During his fifteen years at Macquarie, Aitchison was well known for his dedication to his students and his insistence on keeping up to date with the latest laboratory techniques, experiments and equipment for his students. This was necessary to ensure that the university was keeping in pace with the rapid changes in the electronics industry at the time.

Macquarie University[edit]

At Macquarie, he taught electronics, with an emphasis on semiconductor physics, to advanced undergraduates and graduate students. He also led several successful projects of a highly practical nature including pioneering work on the reception of satellite weather pictures that were shown every evening in Sydney's TV newscasts.

Aitchison became a good friend of famed physicist John Clive Ward and he was an active supporter, and participant, of the successful Macquarie science reform movement.[1][2] It was Aitchison, then Head of the School of Mathematics & Physics and member of Macquarie's Academic Senate, who conveyed the news to his science colleagues, that the Senate had approved the reforms advocated by the scientists.


  • The scientific calculator with speech output for blind students. Aitchison's passion in his later years at Macquarie University was the development of the Speakwriter, a typewriter which enunciated the sounds of typewriter keys as they were pressed. An article written by Tony Healy in Computing Australia (1/9/86) quotes Tim Connell now working for Quantum Technology: “We saw Professor Aitchison on TV with his (talking) typewriter and realised we could do that.” Aitchison developed the talking typewriter originally to help a blind student complete a standard science course. His ideas can now be seen in many of the products available today made for people with vision impairment.
  • The completion of the design, construction and commissioning of an orbiting National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite for remote sensing.
  • The development of solid-state pulse modulators for driving hydrogen thyratrons and for replacing hydrogen thyratrons in pulsed lasers, such as high-power copper vapor lasers. As a result of his work in these fields and his forty years teaching experience, he was awarded the status of Emeritus Professor of Electronics.
  • Ron Aitchison was a fellow of the Australian Institute of Physics, a fellow of the Institute of Physics (London), and a fellow of the IREE.[3]

Later years[edit]

He retired 4 July 1986. In the words of Professor Frederick Chong, (Foundation Professor of Mathematics, Macquarie University, 1966–1980): "No problem was too peculiar for him. We knew that he could call on the most sophisticated of electronic devices, but he might also improvise with matchsticks, chewing gum and string! I can say that Ron Aitchison was one of the most energetic, most knowledgeable, most practical, most intelligent and most interesting persons I have ever known, and even more importantly, he was a real friend with a heart of gold and a purity of spirit unsullied by self-seeking motives."

Physics genealogy[edit]

Files on talking typewriters (late 1970s)[edit]

University Research Bulletin (1982) written by The Australian Vice-Chancellor's Committee, outlines initial research on talking typewriters at Macquarie University, detailing the role of the head of the Talking Typewriter Research team: Professor Ron Aitchison,(Professor of Electronics)[4]


Aitchison's most cited paper, according to the ISI database, is his 1954 paper on transparent semiconducting films – which is still cited to this day. Also his 1964 paper in Am. J. Phys. is notable as it is still cited today and was the first calculation of the resistance between two points on an infinite 2D mesh.

  • R.E Aitchison, "The resistance mesh problem," J. Electrical & Electronics Engineering Australia, 2(2), pp. 65–67, 1982.
  • T.J. Brown and R.E. Aitchison, "A microprocessor controller for a personal typewriter for visually handicapped users," IEEE Trans. Biomedical Engineering, 29(7), pp. 551–555, 1982.
  • R.E. Aitchison "Satellite-receiver ground stations:low cost options,"AMIC Department of Information ISKI Seminar on Satellite Technology: the Communication Equaliser, Solo, Nov 25–30, 1984, Singapore: Asian Mass Communication Research & Information Centre1984[5]
  • R.E. Aitchison, "The calendar," Phys. Educ., 17, pp. 186–189, 1982.
  • R.E. Aitchison and T.J. Brown, "A talking typewriter for the visually handicapped," J. Electrical & Electronics Engineering Australia, 1(4), pp. 288–292, 1981.
  • R.E. Aitchison, "VHF field strengths for line of sight reception," Proc. Inst. Radio & Electronics Engineers Australia, 36 (7), pp. 225–231, 1975.
  • R.E. Aitchison and T.J. Brown, "A high impedance amplifier for biological research," Electronic Engineering, 48(575), p. 23, 1976.
  • R.E. Aitchison, "Electronic world-wide navigation systems," Monitor, 37(12), pp. 346–353, 1976.
  • R.E. Aitchison, ‘‘Resistance between adjacent points of Liebman mesh,’’ Am. J. Phys. 32(7), p. 566, 1964.
  • R.E. Aitchison, "A high-capacitance parametric diode for use at low frequencies," IEEE Trans. MTT, 10(1), p. 91, 1962.
  • R.E. Aitchison, "Suppressed zero d.c. volmeter," J. Sci. Instrum., 38, p. 329, 1961.
  • R.E. Aitchison, "Transparent semiconducting oxide films," Australian J. Appl. Science, 5, pp. 10–17, 1954.
  • R.E. Aitchison, "Small glass spray gun," J. Sci. Instrum., 26, p. 245, 1949.


  1. ^ J. C. Ward, Memoirs of a Theoretical Physicist (Optics Journal, Rochester, New York, 2004) Chapter 13.
  2. ^ F. J. Duarte, The man behind an identity in quantum electrodynamics, Australian Physics 46 (6), 171–175 (2009).
  3. ^ Macquarie University Calendar (Macquarie University, North Ryde, 1983).
  4. ^ Australian Vice Chancellor's Committee (1982). University Research. pp. 16–19. ISBN 0726601985. collection of late Peggy Aitchison. 
  5. ^ Online

External links[edit]