Nevill Mott

Nevill Mott was Head of the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge until his retirement in 1971 and therefore held the chair of which Maxwell was the first occupier. He has published books and many research papers on atomic physics and was involved in the Nuffield Science Project for School Education. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1977.

Maxwell’s Equations

Nevill Mott, 19 November 1981

James Clerk Maxwell was born in 1831. He held chairs at Aberdeen and London and was the first head of the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. He died at the early age of 48, leaving behind, as well as much other first-rate work in physics, something quite epoch-making, ‘Maxwell’s equations’, which predicted clearly that electromagnetic waves could exist, and that light was of this nature. He did not go on to generate radio waves: one wonders why, and why this had to wait for some decades. But the correct theory was all there, in two papers in the Philosophical Magazine published in the early 1860s.

Fear and Loathing in Los Alamos

John Ziman, 4 September 1986

If a speaker at one of his seminars began to explain how he had come by his ideas, the great Russian theoretical physicist L.D. Landau would stop him with disdain: ‘That is only an item for...

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