Obituary: Sir Clifford Butler

CLIFFORD BUTLER was the co- discoverer with George Rochester of "V-particles", a discovery which in hindsight can be seen as the first step towards our current understanding of the nature of matter.

He was born and educated in Reading. From Reading School he went on to spend the war years at Reading University, gaining both his BSc and PhD there. His first research contributions were in the area of electron diffraction, but by 1946 Rochester and Butler were young members of the group established by Patrick Blackett at Manchester University. There they started, under Blackett's guidance, to use a cloud chamber operating in a magnetic field to study the products of the interactions of high-energy cosmic rays in a block of lead placed above the chamber.

On 15 October 1946 they found an unusual event recorded in the photographs of tracks in the chamber - a forked track looking like an inverted "V". This was subsequently interpreted as the spontaneous decay of a neutral particle, but, strangely, the particle had to be enormously long-lived on the time-scale of the nuclear processes produced by the cosmic rays in the lead.

In May 1947 they found a second long-lived particle, this time electrically charged. They had thus seen both neutral and charged examples of what later became called K-mesons.

To increase the observed flux of cosmic rays the Manchester magnet and its chamber were transported to an observatory on the Pic du Midi in the French Pyrenees where they were able to observe a significant number of these "V-particles", and it became clear that they fell into two separate classes of long-lived particles, now known as hyperons and K-mesons.

The strange behaviour of their long life was only explained in 1952 by Abraham Pais, who suggested that the particles were created in pairs. They could be created in quick nuclear reactions, but once separated from their partner could no longer interact rapidly. Murray Gell-Mann and K. Nishijima clarified this picture by identifying a new quantum number, still called "strangeness" in recognition of the apparently strange behaviour.

The creation of the new particles in pairs resulted from the need to balance positive and negative values of the new quantum number if processes are to take place in the fast nuclear interactions; subsequent decay could violate this quantum number, but only on a long time scale.

The observation of these "strange" particles was therefore the first step towards an understanding of the quark structure of matter. Considering the range and importance of the physics that then flowed from the original Rochester and Butler papers, it is hard to understand why their discoveries were never recognised by the Nobel Committee.

In 1953, Blackett and many of his staff, including Butler, moved to Imperial College, London, where Butler became a full professor in 1957, heading the High Energy Nuclear Physics Group there. He quickly recognised the importance of the invention of the bubble chamber by Donald A. Glaser in 1952 and the development of such chambers filled with liquid hydrogen by Roger Hildebrand at Chicago in 1953 and Luis Alvarez at Berkeley in 1954. (Unlike the low- density gas in a cloud chamber, the liquid in a bubble chamber can at once serve as a target for a nuclear interaction and a detector of its products.)

The first operating hydrogen bubble chamber in Europe was created by his group at Imperial College. This led to the 1.5-metre National Hydrogen Bubble Chamber which was used both at the Rutherford Laboratory and at Cern. An important development in such research programmes at Cern was the establishment of international collaborative teams in order to analyse the large number of photographs using the bubble chambers (an approach to research which became the norm for particle physics), under the planning of the Cern Track Chamber Committee which Butler chaired between 1962 and 1965.

By this stage, Butler had become deeply involved in science administration. He became Head of the Physics Department at Imperial College, by now one of the largest multi-group research departments in Europe, whilst still leading the High Energy Nuclear Physics Group. Between 1966 and 1969 he simultaneously also served as Dean of the Royal College of Science. Clifford Butler was a good and kind man who cared for the welfare of his staff and led a department that was proud of the standards and achievements in both its teaching and research.

In 1970 he left Imperial College to become Director of the Nuffield Foundation, a position he held until 1975; then between 1975 and 1985 he served as Vice-Chancellor of Loughborough University of Technology.

Yet he never lost his interest in physics, and played a vital role in IUPAP, the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, being its Secretary-General, 1963-72, Vice-President, 1972-75 and President, 1975- 78. IUPAP generally, and Butler in particular, were of great importance in maintaining relations between physicists on both sides of the Iron Curtain during the worst periods of the Cold War.

Ian Butterworth

Clifford Charles Butler, physicist: born Reading, Berkshire 20 May 1922; Demonstrator in Physics, Reading University 1942-45; Assistant Lecturer in Physics, Manchester University 1945-47, Lecturer 1947-53; Reader in Physics, Imperial College, London 1953-57, Professor of Physics 1957-70, Head of Physics 1963-70; FRS 1961; Dean, Royal College of Science 1966- 69; Director, Nuffield Foundation 1970-75; Vice-Chancellor, Loughborough University of Technology 1975-85; Kt 1983; married 1947 Kathleen Collins (two daughters); died Leicester 30 June 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own