Professor T. E. Allibone

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The Independent Online

T. E. Allibone was far past retirement age when I interviewed him in the late 1980s about his Cavendish years, writes Brian Cathcart [further to the obituary by Tam Dalyell, 11 September]. But he arranged to see me at City University, where I tracked him down in the high-voltage laboratory - sitting on the floor among the huge machines with legs akimbo and screwdriver in hand, mending some small electrical component. He was very proud still to be at work and told me that he had just finished yet another research paper.

Not only was Allibone a witness to, and participant in, what was a golden age of experimental physics at the Cavendish Laboratory, but he also had a tremendous memory. In conversation he could almost bring to life such great and distinctive figures as Ernest Rutherford, J.J. Thomson, James Chadwick or C.T.R. Wilson, and also conjure up the unique atmosphere in which they all worked. I had read, for example, that Wilson, the inventor of the cloud chamber, was a poor lecturer, but it was Allibone who produced the image that now sums it up for me:

He would stand at the blackboard with his crayon in his hand and not know where to put it for a minute or two. Very, very slow, but always sound. And when he did speak it was worth listening to.

Besides the Cavendish, Allibone had a special devotion to Metropolitan-Vickers and, had it not been for his determination to put the matter on record, the company's remarkable contribution to physics research at the Cavendish and in Britain generally might well have been forgotten. He took great pride in the number of Metro-Vick men who became Fellows of the Royal Society. There are now precious few links left to his remarkable era.