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Recent In Memoriam (Obituaries)

Alan Lauder

May 31, 1941 to February 17, 2023

Alan Lauder, of Kennett Square, died at home on 17 February, 2023 surrounded by his family. He was the husband of Heather Lauder for 58 years.

He was born in South Shields, Co. Durham, England in 1941 to Alan and Dorothy Forster Lauder.

Alan attended South Shields Grammar-Technical School for Boys and Hatfield College at the University of Durham (1959-1965) earning a B.Sc. and Ph.D in Chemistry after which he took a two year post doctoral position at the University of Texas, Austin. He also received an MBA from the University of Delaware in 1973.

He started his career with DuPont in the Organic Chemistry department in 1967. While working at PETLAB he developed a new Perovskite catalyst for which he was awarded multiple patents. Alan went on to work in various departments in the company including Central Research & Development, Chemicals and Pigments, Electronics and ultimately becoming Director and General Manager of DuPont Superconductivity.

After retiring from DuPont, Alan continued to work in the field of Superconductivity as a business advisor to the University of Houston, an advisory board member of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston (TcSUH), Executive Director of the Coalition for the Commercial Application of Superconductivity and Chairman of the International Superconductivity Industry Summit which involved travel to various countries. He also consulted on business strategy and negotiations and was President of Alan Lauder Inc.

Alan grew up surrounded by a close knit family in South Shields, which is home to some of the world’s best fish and chips. He always maintained a close connection with his family and his British heritage, despite living in the US. His eight nieces have fond and happy memories of visits in the U.S. and the U.K.

He very much enjoyed his college years in Durham, making life long friends, meeting Heather, who he married in 1964 and captaining the University Bridge team. The 2 year post doctoral position at the University of Texas turned into a 57 year stay in the U.S. where Alan continued to enjoy science fiction, playing tennis, duplicate bridge, golf, and crème brûlée.

Alan dearly loved his family and friends. He was extremely proud of the men his sons have become and of their achievements. Some of his greatest pride and joy came from his grandchildren, he was a very creative grandfather playing and inventing games, activities and characters to entertain and educate them at the same time. He loved attending their activities, school concerts and dance recitals.

Alan is survived by his wife Heather, his sons Alan and Duncan, his grandchildren Ashlyn and Owen and his brother John. Also by his two daughters-in-law Kim and Laura, sisters-in-law Marie-Luce, Gwyneth, Ann and Heather, brothers-in-law David and Ian along with eight nieces, cousins and an aunt and uncle.

He will be remembered for his intellect, disarming smile, graciousness, generosity, optimism and love for the good things in life. Service will be held privately at a later date.

In lieu of customary remembrances, the family wishes to acknowledge Alan’s long-standing relationship with the University of Houston by creating an endowed scholarship in his honor. Contributions may be made to the Alan Lauder Memorial Fund, Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston, 3369 Cullen Blvd, Rm 202, Houston, Texas 77204-5002. To make a gift online, visit Donate: Alan Lauder Memorial Fund then select the “Search Funds” tab and enter Alan Lauder Memorial Fund for designation.

George William Crabtree

November 28, 1944 to January 23, 2023
George William Crabtree

George W. Crabtree, highly influential scientist, dies at 78

George W. Crabtree, a highly influential scientist and longtime Argonne researcher whose work spanned a wide spectrum of topics ranging from superconductivity and magnetism to energy storage research, died on January 23. He was 78.

George was a widely recognized and admired physicist whose main impact was in championing the development of high temperature superconductors and energy efficient batteries.

Early Years at Argonne National Laboratory
George joined Argonne National Laboratory as an intern in 1964, while he was an undergraduate at Northwestern University. Upon graduating in 1967 with a Bachelor’s degree in science engineering, he attended the University of Washington in Seattle where he received his Master’s degree in physics in 1968. He then returned to Argonne to pursue his research in John Ketterson’s group in condensed matter physics, which formed the basis of his PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He received his PhD in 1974 and was promoted to staff physicist at Argonne that same year. His early research at Argonne in the 70’s and early 80’s employed de-Haas van Alphen measurements to map and understand the Fermi surfaces of transition metals, such as Pt, Pd, Nb and Au, and mixed valence materials such as LaSn3 and CeSn3.  One major contribution of this work was the complete Fermi surface description of Nb, which is regarded as a benchmark study to this day. George became a fellow of the American Physical Society in 1984 for these contributions to the study of Fermi surfaces. Later in the 80’s George’s research focused on the electronic properties of magnetic superconductors, in particular, the co-existence of superconductivity and magnetism in ternary rare earth compounds such as ErRh4B4. He also contributed to the early characterization of numerous organic superconductors and contributed to the study of itinerant f-electron behavior in Ce- and U- based heavy Fermion superconductors.

Vortex Matter in High Temperature Superconductors:
Perhaps George’s most important contribution to our understanding of superconductivity was in the area of vortex matter. Soon after the discovery of high temperature superconductors in 1986, George held a leadership role in the National Science Foundation’s Science and Technology Center (1992-2000) comprised of University of Illinois, University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and Argonne to investigate these new superconductors. At Argonne, he built a team of experimentalists (Ulrich Welp, Vitalii Vlasko-Vlasov, and me) and theorists (Valeri Vinokur, and Alexei Koshelev) to investigate the properties of vortex matter in these new superconductors. Vortex matter is made up of superconducting electrons circulating around tubes of magnetic flux. Vortices control the electromagnetic behavior of all type II applied superconductors. Hence, unveiling their properties is crucial for future applications. George and his team extensively investigated the magnetic field and temperature phase diagram of the 90 Kelvin superconductor YBa2Cu3O7-d with various types of induced defects and demonstrated the melting of the vortex lattice and the ubiquity of the vortex liquid state in high temperature superconductors. George also had the early foresight to apply time-dependent Ginzburg Landau simulations to study the dynamic behavior of vortices.

George received the Kamerlingh Onnes Prize with Eli Zeldov in 2003 for “pioneering and seminal experiments which elucidated the vortex phase diagram in high temperature superconductors under various conditions of disorder and anisotropy”. His general work on superconductivity, spanning several decades, also earned him the University of Chicago Award for Distinguished Performance at Argonne National Laboratory in 1982 and 1998 and U. S. Department of Energy Awards for Outstanding Scientific Accomplishment in Solid State Physics in 1982, 1985, 1995 and 1997. He was inducted to the National Academy of Sciences in 2008 and became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2011.  Recognizing the technological potential of high temperature superconductors, George was instrumental in help launching one of the DoE-BES funded Energy Frontier Research Centers, the Center for Emergent Superconductivity (2009-2018), which was led by Brookhaven National Laboratory with Argonne National Laboratory and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as partners. George served as the Center’s Argonne co-Director, bringing industrial partners, such as SuperPower and American Superconductors, in to collaborate on improving the performance of commercial high temperature superconductors.

Championing Energy Sciences:
George was always very enthusiastic about energy. While superconductivity serves as an efficient way to transport energy without losses, George saw the need for a broader strategy in energy research to meet the challenges of climate change. In 2005, he testified at the House Science Committee, Subcommittees on Energy and Research hearing on “Fueling the Future: On the Road to the Hydrogen Economy.” In 2019, he testified at the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Hearing to “Examine Expanded Deployment of Grid-Scale Energy Storage.” He played leadership roles in the strategic planning for DoE-BES’s Basic Research Needs programs on hydrogen, solar energy, energy storage and discovery science, including mesoscale science. “These reports have literally shaped the Basic Energy Sciences (BES) strategic planning and portfolio for the past decade,” said Harriet Kung, deputy director for Science Programs for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

From 2012 until his passing, George served as the Director of the U. S. Department of Energy’s Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), an innovation hub led by Argonne that focuses on advancing battery science and technology. As director of JCESR, George oversaw experiments on a wide range of beyond lithium-ion battery chemistries, including flow batteries, lithium-oxygen, and lithium-sulfur. As JCESR research integration officer, Lynn Trahey, said, “George saw the fight against climate change as one of the primary issues that not only defined the later stages of his career but that he took on personally.” George also served as the Director of the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) Energy Initiative and as Distinguished Professor of Physics, Electrical, and Mechanical Engineering at UIC. Most recently, he received the 2022 Energy Systems Award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics for advancing next-generation energy systems that transition from fossil fuels to carbon-free technologies.

George was a truly exceptional scientist and leader with great foresight. He was rarely the one to turn down a request or challenge, and there were many demanded of him. His warm personality and steady demeanor and leadership in contentious scientific and management discussions invariably helped to achieve an effective consensus. He touched the lives of many and enriched their dreams. His curiosity was boundless and his humility was inspiring. When meeting George you would never hear about all his accomplishments. In the early years, as Group Leader of the Superconductivity and Magnetism Group at Argonne, he enjoyed organizing weekend camping events for his group and colleagues to foster comradery by sharing stories around the campfire. In later years, he enjoyed travelling with his wife, Barbara, and dear friends and sharing a good glass of wine with fine food over a great conversation.

George is survived by his wife Barbara; his sister, Elizabeth "Libby" Aten nee Crabtree and her husband John Aten; one stepson; one step-granddaughter and two grandchildren; and many sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law and other extended family members and friends who love him dearly. He was preceded in death by his son, Mark William Crabtree.

This obituary was written by Wai -K. Kwok, who also offered these additional links:

K. Alex Müller

April 20, 1927 to January 9, 2023
K. Alex Müller, Zollikerberg (Zurich) 2022 (Photo taken by A. B.-H.)

On January 9, 2023 we lost our dear friend and estimated colleague K. Alex Müller, IBM Fellow and Professor of Physics at the University of Zurich, Nobel Prize Winner in Physics in 1987.

Alex was born on April 20, 1927 in Basel, Switzerland. He spent most of his childhood with his mother in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland (Ticino). After her early death he stayed in a boarding school in Schiers located in the Swiss mountains where he also received the Matura.

He studied physics at the ETH Zurich where Prof. Wolfgang Pauli played an essential and influential role throughout his scientific life. There he performed his PhD work under the supervision of Prof. Georg Busch. This work entitled “Paramagnetic Resonance of Fe3+ in SrTiO3 Single Crystals” was the beginning of a long scientific research career in the field of perovskites, ferroelectrics, static and dynamic Jahn-Teller effects, phase transitions, critical and multicritical phenomena. Since his doctoral thesis his main experimental tool was electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) in order to investigate local electronic, magnetic, and structural properties of oxide systems. In the following years Alex concentrated on SrTiO3 and related compounds and published many breakthrough papers on this subject.

His professional career began at the Battelle Memorial Institute in Geneva, where he became the manager of the magnetic resonance group (1958-1963) and a Lecturer at the University of Zurich, receiving the title of Professor in 1970. In 1963, he joined the IBM Zurich Research Laboratory in Rüschlikon, as a research staff member and later became head of the Physics Department from 1971-1985. During this time he deepened his knowledge in the above mentioned topics and became world famous for his research in the field. At the age of only 53 he concluded that the until then achieved honours, he could have finished his scientific career and do administrative work only.

However, things went differently as we all know, mainly influenced by a two years sabbatical stay of Alex at the IBM TJW Research Center in Yorktown Heights, where he had his first encounter with the field of superconductivity. He decided to get deeply acquainted with this topic, being inspired by the discovery that granular Al has a higher superconducting transition temperature than the bulk form. Back to Zurich he even gave lectures on superconductivity at the University of Zurich.

During this time Alex made the interesting observation that superconductivity was very rarely observed in oxides and specifically in oxide perovskites. Yet, the few existing exceptions had unusually high transition temperatures in view of their low density of states at the Fermi level. This inspired him to think of a novel electron pairing mechanism beyond the BCS scheme admitting for unconventionally large electron-lattice interactions. Furthermore, he got involved in the Jahn-Teller polaron predicted by the work of his friend Prof. Harry Thomas and his group at the University of Basel.

At this moment he suggested to J. Georg Bednorz to search for oxide superconductors with Jahn-Teller ions. While the following few years were rather disappointing, they reached the breakthrough in 1986 with the discovery of high temperature superconductivity (HTSC) in ceramic cuprates. A year later both were awarded with the Nobel prize in physics. Furthermore, he received many distinguished awards and honours.

Alex spent the years after this huge achievement with more detailed research in HTSC, but also came back to his former routes, namely ferroelectricity and structural phase transitions in perovskite oxides.

As for HTSC it was important to him to demonstrate that his starting idea of the Jahn-Teller polaron was internationally acknowledged in spite of a strong scientific objection in the community. He founded the research project of isotope effects at the University of Zurich where pioneering results could be achieved supporting the idea of unconventional strong electron lattice interaction as source of the pairing glue.

Besides of being an ingenious researcher and scientist, Alex was also an excellent teacher and lecturer and enjoyed the university life intensively by attending seminars and supporting students. With Alex we lose a very good friend and a highly appreciated colleague, an excellent inspiring scientist, and a devoted teacher.

Annette Bussmann-Holder
Max-Planck Institute for Solid State Research, Stuttgart, Germany

Hugo Keller
Physics Institute, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

May 5, 2023



Donald “Bruce” Montgomery

July 1, 1933 to July 1, 2022
"Bruce" Montgomery, 2013 IEEE CSC Awards Luncheon

Donald “Bruce” Montgomery, influential electromagnet engineer, dies at 89

Donald “Bruce” Montgomery SM ’57, a highly influential engineer and longtime MIT researcher whose career was focused on the development of large-scale electromagnets, died on July 1. He was 89.

Montgomery’s contributions have been pivotal for numerous major facilities in fusion energy, in the design of magnets for particle accelerators for physics and medical applications, for magnetically levitated transportation, and in many other disciplines. He was a recognized international leader in magnet design and fusion engineering, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and recipient of numerous awards including the Dawson Award for Excellence in Plasma Physics Research (1983) and the Fusion Power Associates Distinguished Career Award (1998).

Montgomery graduated with a BA from Williams College and an MS from MIT in the Department of Electrical Engineering in 1957. In 1967 he received an ScD from the University of Lausanne.

Following his graduation from MIT he joined the staff of MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and shortly after began work on high-field magnets under Francis Bitter, renowned magnet designer and founder of the National Magnet Laboratory at MIT. Montgomery rose to become the associate director of what was later renamed the Francis Bitter National Magnet Laboratory. During this period he authored the book "Solenoid Magnet Design: The Magnetic and Mechanical Aspects of Resistive and Superconducting Magnets," which remains a standard reference.

A turn toward fusion

Montgomery’s expertise was next harnessed to a growing program in fusion energy. Following the measurement of plasma temperatures exceeding 10 million degrees in the Soviet T3 tokamak, a race was on to build ever more capable magnetic confinement experiments. Working with Bruno Coppi of MIT’s physics department and Ron Parker from electrical engineering, Montgomery led a team that designed and constructed two tokamak devices capable of operating with magnetic fields up to and exceeding 12 Tesla, still today an unprecedentedly high magnetic field for fusion research. The initial device, known as Alcator A, set a world record for the key plasma confinement metric. The follow-on device, Alcator C, extended this record in the 1980s and gave confidence that plasma conditions sufficient for a fusion power plant could indeed be achieved.

The record-setting performance by both devices was made possible by the use of breakthrough magnet technology developed with Montgomery’s insight and leadership. One can draw a straight line between these early breakthroughs in magnet technology and the resultant scientific progress that they enabled to the further evolution of magnet technology being used in SPARC, a demonstration fusion device led by MIT and spinoff company Commonwealth Fusion Systems that is designed to produce more energy than it consumes.

Montgomery also had a well-recognized ability to manage very large projects and to lead diverse groups of scientists, engineers, technicians, and students. As a result he was appointed chief engineer on several national fusion system construction projects and had a leadership role in the early days of the international fusion project known as ITER. In the 1990's he led one of the three national consortia teams vying to develop maglev technology under the U.S. Department of Transportation Maglev Initiative.

Creating a revolutionary cable

While at the National Magnet Lab, Montgomery, Henry Kolm, and Mitch Hoenig invented the concept for the cable-in-conduit-conductor (CICC). In those early days of large-scale superconducting magnet research, large-bore, high-field superconducting magnets were built in a type of brute-force method. These older designs were unstable and unsuitable to the need for ever higher magnetic fields, and larger sizes increase the performance of magnetic confinement fusion machines. This technology was impeding advancement, especially for the tokamak’s poloidal field magnets which were required to deliver rapidly changing fields.

Montgomery, Kolm, and Hoenig solved these problems by combining many superconducting wires into a cable, using standard industrial equipment, and then putting the cable inside a steel or other high strength metal alloy tube (conduit). The magnet was cooled down and maintained at 4K by flowing supercritical helium within the conduit. Since each conductor could be insulated against high voltages, large-bore, high-field, high-stored magnetic energy magnets could be safely protected from quench. The strong metal alloy conduit provided high mechanical strength distributed most optimally throughout the winding cross-section. And the flowing helium provided excellent heat transfer from all the superconducting wires in the cable, resulting in very high electrothermal stability, especially for fast ramped magnets.

Although the CICC concept was deemed heretical within the international applied superconductivity community and dismissed as impractical, under Montgomery's leadership the MIT group rapidly developed and proved the concept. Today, every working fusion device in the world that uses superconducting magnets employs this conductor, including tokamaks (e.g., EAST, KSTAR, JT60-SA), helical machines (LHD), and stellarators (Wendelstein 7-X). It is the baseline conductor design for ITER and has found application in particle accelerators and magnetic levitation.

Exploring magnetic levitation and propulsion

In the 1970's, Montgomery and Kolm from the Francis Bitter Magnet Laboratory collaborated with Richard Thornton from the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering in formulating the "magplane" concept of magnetic levitation and propulsion. An early demonstration of a model scale device was built and tested on MIT's athletic fields. Montgomery and Henry Kolm later founded Magplane Technology, Inc. (MTI) a small company focused on developing advanced applications of magnetic levitation and propulsion. A working version of this technology was built in China, where it was used to deliver coal from coal mines, avoiding the excessive coal dust and waste resulting from open trucking vehicles. In the 1980's, Montgomery worked with Peter Marston and Mitch Hoenig, leading an MIT team developing very large-scale superconducting magnets for magnetohydrodynamic electric power generation.

Engineers and scientists know that failure can be the best instructor. Montgomery took that lesson to heart, diagnosing failure mechanisms in large magnet systems and authoring several meta-studies which analyzed and tabulated the underlying causes. This work allowed engineers to focus on the most critical aspects of their designs and contributed to the growing reliability of research magnets. After his retirement from MIT in 1996, Montgomery was the founder and president of MTECHNOLOGY Inc., an engineering consultancy which specializes in risk and reliability.

An engineer’s engineer

Joe Minervini, one of Montgomery’s proteges, notes: “Bruce was considered by me and most people who knew him to be an 'engineer's engineer.' Although he always possessed a deep scientific understanding of the technology problem he was attacking, he always seemed to formulate a brilliant but practical engineering solution. Over his long career at MIT, he demonstrated this time and again on many of the most advanced and challenging new technologies built around conventional and superconducting magnets.”

Beyond the breadth of his technical contributions and committed mentorship, Bruce Montgomery will be remembered for his warm personality and his calm, steady demeanor, which was of inestimable value when things got tough — a common occurrence when pushing the envelope in research. He had a unique ability to take control of contentious technical and management discussions and to gently pull or push everyone to an effective consensus and into action. He will be sorely missed by his friends, family and colleagues.

Montgomery is predeceased by his wife of 52 years, Nancy Ford Fenn, who passed away in 2006, and by Elizabeth Bartlett Sturges, with whom he spent many happy years until her passing in 2021. He is survived by his son Timothy Montgomery and his wife Susan of Scituate, Massachusetts; daughter Melissa Sweeny and her husband Tom of Groton, Massachusetts; as well as his grandchildren, Jenna Sweeny, Christopher Sweeny, and Benjamin Sweeny.

This obituary was originally published in MIT News on July 15 2022, written by Martin Greenwald | Plasma Science and Fusion Center.

Sir Martin Wood

April 19, 1927 to November 23, 2021

Physicist founder of Oxford Instruments, a trailblazing university tech start-up that enabled the first MRI whole body scanner

When young physicist Martin Wood had what was then a revolutionary idea of creating a business out of his research in magnets at Oxford University, the head of physics, Nicholas Kurti, manhandled him. “He grabbed the epaulet of my jacket, pulled me up close to him and said in his deep, strong, guttural Hungarian accent, ‘Vot can I do to help you?’ ” Wood recalled.

In return for the use of facilities at the Clarendon Laboratory to support the first high-tech company spun out of the university, Wood agreed to continue his research at Oxford’s electromagnets facility for ten years after founding Oxford Instruments in his garden shed in 1959.

Wood would build the venture into a world-leading supplier of superconducting wire for commercial purposes, as well as products based on powerful magnets that operate at very low temperatures. These included the first commercial MRI whole body scanner, an innovation that has helped to save millions of lives.

While at Oxford, Wood had been leading a nocturnal existence; the magnets could only be used at night because so much energy was required to run them. They operated from an enormous motor generator that used to power Manchester’s trams and would have caused an electricity outage at the local power station had he tried to use them during the day.

When the first superconducting magnet was developed in the United States in 1961, enabling a powerful electromagnet to be run from a car battery, Wood saw the potential for the technology in multiple applications. He set about improving the design of the American prototypes, which were expensive to run because of the need to use large amounts of liquid helium to cool them.

A year later Wood made the first superconducting magnet outside the US based on running a current through a coil of niobium zirconium alloy wire that produced a magnetic field.

“As the temperature dropped, the resistance of the magnet fell in the normal way, until at a magic moment the voltage needle suddenly dropped to zero while the ammeter remained steady, and I felt the same feeling of incredulity as Kamerlingh Onnes must have experienced all those years ago. The magnet produced a magnetic field of 4.1 Tesla in the 1.8cm bore of the magnet. We were in the superconducting magnet business!”

Wood reported his findings in the New Scientist and was inundated with inquiries from physicists around the world, keen to work in high magnetic fields but without the significant power installations the old copper magnet systems needed.

He soon had three commissions. One was at the UK Atomic Energy Research Laboratory at Harwell, which wanted a magnet for neutron spectroscopy in a space allocated in a beam line from a reactor. The second came from an ex-Clarendon physicist at the Royal Radar Research Establishment at Malvern, who needed a magnet for secret naval research projects. The third was from the Nuclear Fusion Research Group of the Atomic Energy Authority, which asked for 39 helically wound copper coils for modulating the magnetic field in the first “mirror machine” to be constructed there.

For a time, the garden shed became a manufacturing hub, with a second-hand lathe and a special winding machine he had invented for making the copper pancake coils. His wife became an expert in moulding fibre-glass casings. “We lived in a delightful part of Oxford where industrial activity would never be allowed,” Wood recalled. “Fortunately, we had a big garden and I planted trees around the workshop and our illegal activities were never discovered.” It was a family affair. His brother-in-law, a solicitor, provided legal counsel. Another brother-in-law, an accountant, advised on finances while his wife learnt bookkeeping. The company had been started with £200 borrowed from his mother-in-law.

With demand growing in the early 1960s he moved the company to a former stables in Oxford. His magnets were used in the nuclear reactors for power stations being built throughout the sixties and seventies and would provide components for microscopes, spectroscopes, helium refrigerators and measuring instruments that could investigate materials at very low temperatures.

In 1970, a year after he had left his post at Oxford for good, Wood’s enterprise was turning over £350,000 (nearly £5 million today) and employing 100 people. Profits were invested in the acquisition of Newport Instruments in 1974. Wood harnessed its expertise in nuclear magnetic resonance technology to design superconducting magnets that would enable the first whole-body MRI scanners in 1980 for Hammersmith Hospital in London and the Imaging Laboratory at the University of California.

Reports of how the scanners could render more detailed pictures inside the body led to a surge in demand. To meet it, Wood founded the subsidiary Oxford Magnet Technology and formed a joint venture with the German conglomerate Siemens. A factory was built in Eynsham, Oxfordshire, which today produces more than a quarter of all MRI magnets. After 15 years Siemens bought OI out of the MRI business; OI used the proceeds to semi-automate production in its core business.

Oxford Instruments grew to 1,100 employees and expanded its product range to include ambulatory monitoring systems for recording heart rate, brain activity or foetal activity. Wood would patrol his growing empire in sandals. He was also a big believer that employees be given a shareholding to help them buy into the company’s vision. A flotation on the London Stock Exchange in 1983 valued the company at £126 million (£368 million today), after which Wood stepped away from the day-to-day running of the company. Oxford Instruments won the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise five times. Wood was knighted in 1986.

Martin Francis Wood was born in Great Milton, Oxfordshire, in 1927 to Arthur Wood, a civil servant who worked at the Board of Education, and Katharine (née Cumberlege). He attended Gresham’s School in Holt, Norfolk. Before he could take up his place to read engineering at Trinity College, Cambridge, he was given the choice of army, navy or air force for his National Service. He rejected them all to go down the mines as a Bevin Boy and dug at the coalface at mines in South Wales and the Midlands. All the while his brain fired with ideas of how to improve the dark and forbidding underground environment. He enjoyed the work, despite being given the most unpleasant coalface after having the temerity to complain about the working conditions of his fellow miners.

After completing his degree the Coal Board sponsored a further two years of study at the Royal School of Mines, now part of Imperial College London. He joined the Coal Board in 1954 with many ideas to make mining safer and more efficient but found the organisation unreceptive to change. A year later he joined Oxford University as a senior research officer for the cryo-magnetic group at the Clarendon Laboratory that had been set up by Kurti, Francis Simon and Georg Mendelssohn, who had all come to Britain as Jewish refugees from the Nazis. One objective of the group was to pursue research projects on materials at these ultra-low temperatures.

By then Wood had married Audrey Stanfield, whom he had met at Cambridge where she was studying natural sciences and English. She had been widowed and had two small children. Wood’s stepson, Robin, had polio and Wood, a natural problem solver, helped to design hinged callipers that would allow the boy to ride a tricycle. His wife survives him along with their son, Jonny, and his stepchildren, Robin and Sarah. Their daughter, Patsy, died in 2007.

As one of the first to make the bridge from science academia to industry Wood started a crusade to help young people do the same. In 1985 he and his wife founded and endowed the Oxford Trust to provide grants for A-level science and technology projects that formed a link with companies to produce a viable product. He then converted a builder’s yard in Oxford into units for start-ups, an innovative model at the time, and developed a network of tech start-ups known as Oxford Innovation.

As a child Wood had volunteered to manage local woodland rather than enlist in his school’s cadet corps. He founded the Northmoor Trust (later renamed the Earth Trust) in 1967 to provide education in wildlife and countryside management. Today the Earth Trust owns 1,200 acres on the banks of the Thames near the village of Little Wittenham as a wildlife habitat open to the public. He formed the Sylva Foundation, too, to support sustainable forest management.

He also left his mark on where his journey began, endowing £2 million for the building of the Sir Martin Wood Lecture Theatre at the Clarendon Laboratory at Oxford.

Wood was immensely proud of his invention of an affordable superconducting magnet and believed that it could have a bigger part to play in combating climate change. “Given the quite extraordinary property of loss-free conduction of electricity, it is surprising that superconductivity has not made a greater impact in a wider range of technologies and industries,” he said in 2011. “Nevertheless the increasing cost of energy serves as a strong incentive for the introduction of superconductivity in a range of developments.”

Sir Martin Wood, CBE, FRS, was born on April 19, 1927. He died of pneumonia on November 23, 2021, aged 94.

The obituary above was originally printed in The Times (UK) on December 16th, 2021. 

Justin Williams, Times Newspapers LTD

Read Sir Martin Wood's obituary from University of Oxford.