Obituary: Professor Frank Llewellyn Jones

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The Independent Online
Frank Llewellyn Jones was an academic of integrity, with interests ranging from physics to railways, and all pursued with an enthusiasm which reflected the "hwyl" typical of a man with his deep Welsh roots. From these roots, of which he was proud, sprang his lifetime of service to the cause of higher education in the principality.

Born in 1907 at Penrhiwceiber in one of the South Wales valleys north of Cardiff, Llewellyn Jones received his early education at West Monmouth School. He went up in 1925 as an Open Science Exhibitioner to Merton College, Oxford, where he took a First in Physics.

There followed three years of research with Professor Sir John Townsend, himself, in his day, a research student of Professor Sir J.J. Thomson, the discoverer of the electron. This was a formative period for Llewellyn Jones, stimulating his deep interest in the physics of ionised gases and plasmas, which was as lively towards the end of his life as when he first arrived at the then University College of Swansea in 1932, as a young lecturer in the Physics Department, having completed his DPhil and a short period as Senior Demy at Magdalen College, Oxford.

He remained in the service of the University of Wales for 42 years, 33 in the Physics Department and the rest as Principal. He was appointed as Professor of Physics and Head of Department in 1945, in succession to Professor E.J. Evans, the founding professor. He masterminded the department's rapid post-war expansion and established two internationally renowned research schools, one in ionised gases and the other in electrical contacts.

His interest in electrical contacts research developed while at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, where he was seconded as a Senior Scientific Officer carrying out research on aero-engine ignition during the Second World War.

Llewellyn Jones conveyed his enthusiasm for his subject at Swansea both in lively provocative discussion and through lectures delivered in a style, which, if not always totally coherent, was never dull. He inspired in his students respect and affection and was invited to lecture all over the world. Never an ivory-tower academic, he recognised, long before it became generally accepted, the need for strong interaction between research in the universities and in industry. This led to his developing many collaborative projects with support from organisations such as the Electrical Research Association, the Central Electricity Association, the Central Electricity Generating Board and the Plessey Co, as well as involvement in the early stages of the fusion power programme, stimulated in the universities by the Warren Committee of the Royal Society under Sir G.P. Thomson.

While Head of the Physics Department he also served as Dean of Science (1946-48), Vice-Principal (1954-56 and 1960-62), and Acting Principal (1959-60). Then in 1965 he was appointed as Principal of the college, a post he held for nine years. Those years included the notorious Sixties, a time of turbulence and dissent in academe as elsewhere. Swansea was not without its share of disruption, but emerged in good shape to meet the different challenges which continue to this day.

Llewellyn Jones also served as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wales (1969-71), playing a crucial part in the incorporation into the university of both St David's College, Lampeter, and the Welsh College of Advanced Technology (as the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology, before its subsequent merger with the University College of South Wales, Cardiff). As Chairman of the Gregynog Committee he initiated the incorporation of the study centre at Gregynog in mid-Wales into the university, and the restoration of the prestigious Gregynog Press. He also made significant contributions to the advisory committee on the University of the Air, under the chairmanship of Baroness Lee, the recommendations from which eventually led to the establishment of the Open University.

In the wider Welsh context, he served as Senior Scientific Adviser (Wales) on Civil Defence to the Home Office, and for six years on the Council for Wales, where his knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, rail transport enabled him to argue effectively against too drastic a reduction in rail services in Wales. Under his chairmanship, the Central Advisory Committee for Education (Wales) as early as 1965 issued the first report to document the impending crisis in schools resulting from the shortage of science graduates entering the teaching profession. Again under his chairmanship, the university committee on the place of Welsh in Broadcasting made recommendations which were subsequently adopted and led to the eventual establishment of the Welsh-language channel S4C.

Llewellyn Jones's contributions to physics research, encapsulated in five books, including his well-known definitive Methuen monograph Ionization and Breakdown in Gases (1957), as well as in more than 70 original papers in scientific journals, were recognised by the award of the C.V. Boys Prize of the Institute of Physics in 1960 and the first Ragnar Holm Achievement Award for Research on Electrical Contacts in 1972.

Charming and courteous and sometimes slightly vulnerable in his personal relationships, Frank Llewellyn Jones was an independent thinker, outspoken in his professional contacts, never unduly influenced by political correctness or the establishment view and sometimes slightly impatient and irreverent of authority. Traits which, in the view of some of his close friends, prevented his attaining the full recognition which his undoubted range of achievements warranted; although it must be added that this was a matter of greater concern to his colleagues than to himself.

Jack Dutton

Frank Llewellyn Jones, physicist: born Penrhiwceiber, Glamorgan 30 September 1907; Lecturer in Physics, University College of Swansea 1932-40, Head of Department of Physics 1945-65, Vice-Principal 1954-56 and 1960-62, Acting Principal 1959-60, Principal 1965-74; Senior Scientific Officer, RAE, Farnborough 1940-45; Professor of Physics, University of Wales 1945- 74 (Emeritus); CBE 1965; Vice-Chancellor, University of Wales 1969-71; married 1938 Eileen Davies (died 1982; one son, and one daughter deceased), 1983 Mrs Gwendolen Thomas; died Cardiff 3 February 1997.