Obituary: Professor John Woods

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The Independent Online
John Woods, physicist: born Gorleston, Norfolk 2 July 1925; scientist, GEC 1950-60; Lecturer and Reader in Applied Physics, Durham University 1960-85, Dean of Science and Chairman, Board of Studies in Applied Physics 1985-89, Professor of Applied Physics 1987-89 (Emeritus); married (two sons, one daughter); died Durham 29 June 1993.

JOHN WOODS was one of the founders of the Department of Applied Physics at Durham University, and head of the department from 1987 to 1989.

Woods was born in 1925 in Gorleston, Norfolk, and educated at Great Yarmouth Grammar School and Queen Mary College, London University, where he read Physics. After a three-year spell in the RAF he returned in 1948 to Queen Mary College where he completed a doctorate on the dielectric properties of semiconducting materials.

He then started work in the research laboratories of GEC Ltd where he began a lifelong association with the late Professor DA Wright. Working initially on thermionic and secondary emission from oxide-coated cathodes and subsequently on phosphors used in television tubes, he developed the strong practical emphasis that characterised his personal research.

In 1956, while still at GEC, he started work on the photoelectric properties of cadmium sulphide, the II-VI compound semiconductor that superseded selenium as the active material in photographic light meters. In time he worked with most of the II-VI semiconducting compounds and it is for this work that he became internationally known.

In 1960 Woods joined Professor Wright as a founder member of the Department of Applied Physics at Durham University, where he remained for the rest of his life, eventually becoming the Professor of Applied Physics in 1987. In 1960, the department consisted of a few unfurnished rooms, four academics, eight undergraduate and, significantly, four postgraduate students. The close interaction of research and teaching has been the hallmark of the department and a philosophy to which Woods wholly subscribed.

From such small beginnings, Woods built one of the foremost research groups in Britain concerned with the preparation, characterisation and utilisation of II-VI semiconducting compounds. Along with his research students and technicians, he developed a technique for growing large crystal boules of these materials, now known as the Clark-Woods method. This established Durham as an important centre for semiconductor crystal growth. At the same time he initiated work with light-emitting devices and more importantly solar cells, work which continued after his retirement. Over the years some 50 research students from all over the world have gained their Ph Ds under his supervision and more than 200 scientific papers bear his name - a lasting testament to his work.

His talents and experience were recognised by his colleagues and latterly by the university. He was an elected member of the Senate and Council and was, for four years, the Chairman of the Academic Electoral Assembly. In 1985 he became Chairman of the Board of Studies in Applied Physics and in the same year Dean of Science, and following his retirement in 1989, Emeritus Professor.

Woods always maintained close ties with industry and during his career worked with some of Britain's largest organisations, ICI, Tioxide, Pilkingtons and British Aerospace, as well as many smaller and more local companies. He was a firm believer in the necessity of collaboration between the industrial and university sectors, and the steady erosion of Britain's research base over the past decade was a matter of grave concern for him.

Among his many gifts was a command of the English language rare among scientists and the envy of his colleagues. oods was in many ways a scientist in the classic mould, for whom the need to understand the problem in hand was paramount. He was a patient and long-suffering teacher while at the same time an effective researcher. His almost paternal concern for those he supervised and worked with earned him the sobriquet 'Uncle' from the earliest days of his career in Durham.

A keen cricketer, John was delighted when Durham were admitted to the Major Counties League last year and he was looking forward to many happy hours watching first- class cricket. It is one of the sadder ironies of his life that this was to be so unexpectedly denied him.

(Photograph omitted)