Obituary: Professor Arthur Maitland

Arthur Maitland, physicist: born Blackburn, Lancashire 7 December 1928; lecturer in physics, St Andrews University 1963-68, senior lecturer 1968-84, reader 1984-93, Professor of Applied Physics 1993-94; married 1953 Mary Ball (two sons, three daughters); died St Andrews 30 June 1994.

ARTHUR MAITLAND was one of the early pioneers of laser physics in Britain, and the founder of the internationally renowned research group in that topic at St Andrews University.

'Matty' Maitland was the only son of a dealer in secondhand books, and books, either the writing or the reading of them, were to be one of the abiding passions of his life. He was born in 1928 in Blackburn, but early on the family moved to Southport, where he was to live for most of the first half of his life. He trained as a schoolteacher at Chester College and taught science for a number of years in local schools. However, his capacity for sustained hard work and his deeply rooted belief in the benefits of continuing education led him to take an external degree in physics at London University in 1956. This was to be the key that unlocked for him the Aladdin's cave of scientific research.

He joined the Metropolitan- Vickers Company at Trafford Park in Manchester in those days when the value of basic research to the prosperity of British industry was still recognised. Under the guidance of Dr (later Professor) Ted Kuffel, a mentor from whom he acquired his characteristic pragmatic approach to scientific research ('Suck it and see' was to remain a guiding principle), he made a substantial contribution to the study of electrical breakdown in vacuum - an area of vital importance to the electricity supply industry.

It was typical of him that during this time he continued to live in Southport, despite the daunting task of commuting daily to central Manchester. By so doing he could be near the sea, and Saturday mornings were often spent with his growing family searching for dewberries among the sand-dunes at Freshfield.

After a brief spell at Hawker Siddeley he moved in 1961 to Newcastle upon Tyne to join the International Research and Development Co (part of CA Parsons & Co). It was a time when the nuclear power industry was in its ascendancy. The challenge of improving power-extraction efficiency in a nuclear plant through the use of a high-temperature generator in which the usual wires were replaced with conducting gas (the magneto-hydrodynamic generator) had been taken up with vigour throughout the technological world, and in Newcastle Maitland established a group studying the underpinning physics (plasma physics) involved in these devices.

It was to be a few years later that the opportunity fully to develop his talents for both scientific research and teaching finally arose. Given that the place in which to do this was also a 'little city, worn and grey, girded round by the grey North Ocean', the lure was to prove irresistible, and in 1963 Maitland came to where he was to remain for the rest of his life, St Andrews.

Appointed to a lecturership in the Department of Physics at the university, he had the foresight to realise that the recent demonstration of the first laser by Theodore Maiman in 1960 promised a whole new area of physical research. Maitland established a team investigating gas lasers (ion and metal vapour lasers) and applications of the wonderful new laser light, in particular in applied spectroscopy (Raman spectroscopy). It was his hallmark that, as well as seeking a fundamental understanding of the devices on which he worked, he followed through their applications in such areas as medicine and pollution monitoring.

The many students who worked with him in those early days of lasers will remember both the excitement and fun that Maitland brought to research. Nowhere was this better epitomised than in the annual pilgrimages to the Physics Exhibitions run by the Institute of Physics at Alexander Palace. A van-load of equipment relating to the latest breakthrough in laser science would embark on the night train from Scotland to London, to be duly assembled as a working exhibit the next day. Maitland was undaunted by any obstacles that might arise in the course of these events; on one occasion the lack of a drain to take the cooling water from a particularly large argon laser was solved by the simple expedient of drilling a hole through the floor and letting the water go where it would.

With Maitland hard work was always rewarded by the quality of the associated leisure pursuits. It was traditional that in the evenings, following a hard day on the exhibition stand, his formidable knowledge of the best eating places in the capital (particularly those purveying curries, for which he had a passion second only to that for books) be put to exhaustive test by his students.

He was subsequently appointed to a senior lecturership (1968), then a readership (1984), and finally became Professor of Applied Physics (1993) in St Andrews. As the scope of his work in lasers grew, so did his other research activities, which came to include optical signal processing, microwave and radio-frequency research, and high-voltage engineering. He was awarded a DSc by the university in 1972, and became a fellow of the Institute of Physics.

His early industrial background meant that throughout his academic career he maintained close links with industry, and he was highly regarded as a consultant. His research publications were complemented by numerous patents, and by three books: Vacuum as an Insulator (with R. Hawley), Quantum Optics (as editor, with SM Kay), and Laser Physics (with MH Dunn).

Arthur Maitland brought the same resolve to his final battle with cancer that he had shown throughout his life when faced with adversity. Although in the end the disease was to defeat him, the lasers in the development of which he played such a key role promise to be vital tools in the ongoing battle against the disease.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor