Obituary: Professor Arthur Charlesby

Arthur Charlesby will be remembered as the father of radiation chemistry. A physicist by training, he was endowed with an acute intellect reinforced by a remarkable practical and commercial flair. These talents bore fruit in later life in an astonishing number of original papers and patents largely concerned with the effect of high energy radiation on polymeric materials.

Charlesby was educated in London and Antwerp, and graduated from the Imperial College of Science in London, where he studied diffraction phenomena in organic crystals under G.I. Finch and G.P. Thompson. His early professional career was interrupted by the Second World War, in which he served in the RAF in the vital field of operational analysis, and was mentioned in dispatches. This work involved collaboration with the United States Air Force on the effectiveness of Allied bombing.

Immediately after the war Charlesby became responsible for the planning of air traffic in post-war Europe, and was involved as an adviser during the Berlin airlift of 1948-49. He then joined the Atomic Energy Research Establishment (AERE) at Harwell working on the effects of radiation on materials.

After a period with Tube Investments (TI), heading a small research laboratory at Hinxton Hall, Cambridge, he moved in 1957 to the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham (the technical university of the army, today known as Cranfield University; it moved to Shrivenham from Woolwich in 1946) as Professor of Physics and Head of Department.

This inaugurated a particularly fertile period in original work when Charlesby's enthusiasm for fundamental research produced a plethora of scientific papers devoted to the effects of radiation on polymers. His significant contribution to this field lay in the discovery that a flexible polymer such as polyethylene could be "cross-linked" and rendered rigid by exposure to high-energy radiation. (The story goes that when at Harwell, where he worked in the metals department, Charlesby put something in the reactor and forgot about it; when he looked at it again he noticed that its plastic container had undergone a substantial change, so he determined to start work on polymers.)

Many commercial applications were evident, leading to an extensive range of patents world-wide. Recognition that foodstuffs could be effectively sterilised by radiation within sealed plastic packages followed. A further development was the now widespread use of radiation for sterilisation of medical equipment.

Charlesby's flair for showmanship was evident at this time. To make the point that sterilising food and drink by radiation was inherently harmless, he astonished an audience of brigadiers and major-generals by pouring out a glass of irradiated beer and drinking it during the lecture.

While it is certainly true to acknowledge the strong commercial thrust of these radiation studies, Charlesby remained keenly interested in problems of theoretical physics, notably in relativity theory. His brilliant yet simple approach to the quantisation of time and space bore fruit in his closing years. He was actively working on further developments of this topic during his final illness. Earlier papers in this series were published in the Journal of Radiation Physics and Chemistry, of which he was founder and editor-in- chief.

For many years he travelled widely directing research throughout the world, from China to Zagreb. His long- lasting collaboration with the Polytechnic University of Ldz in Poland was acknowledged by the award of the Marie Curie Medal for radiation work in 1989 and by an honorary doctorate in 1990.

His friends will recall with pleasure Arthur Charlesby's engaging friendliness and spontaneous hospitality with Irene his wife at their home in Watchfield, distinguished by an incredible array of drinks and cordials from every corner of the globe.

Arthur Charlesby, radiation physicist: born London 12 October 1915; Professor of Physics, Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham 1957-80 (Emeritus); married 1958 Irene Goulding; died Swindon, Wiltshire 13 June 1996.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices