FREDERICK SODDY

PARTS OF A LIFE

Frederick Soddy FRS (1877-1956)

Pioneer radiochemist with distinct views on economics and the role of science in the world.

“Beauty and truth and duty, that’s all y’need to know”

 

Several biographies of Soddy can be found.  This partial note contributes information sometimes overlooked.

Still here in early stages, it is being expanded from my notes on his father-in-law Sir George Beilby FRS and his would-be pupil Jack Mitchell FRS. 

 

Frederick Soddy was awarded the Nobel prize for chemistry for 1921 "for his contributions to our knowledge of the chemistry of radioactive substances, and his investigations into the origin and nature of isotopes".   No award had been made in 1921 from those nominated that year;  Soddy’s retrospective award was made in 1922 and was proposed by former Nobel laureates, his experimental colleagues Sir Ernest Rutherford (Chemistry 1908) and Sir J J Thomson (Physics 1906). 

 

 

EARLY LIFE

Frederick Soddy, the son of Benjamin Soddy, a London corn merchant, was born at 6 Bolton Road Eastbourne on September 2, 1877.  The Soddys had come originally from London’s Bunhill Fields and later established themselves just south of the river at Walworth where Frederick’s two much older brothers continued the family trade.  The youngest of the family, Frederick lost his mother at a very early age. He reacted against a stern and (by his account) unaffectionate Wesleyan household, but enjoyed the warm companionship of the servants, the cook in particular. This elderly lady, Margaret Roberts, provided an appreciative audience for his early nursery experiments.  She’d been born not far from Grantham well over a century before her famous Grantham namesake Mrs Thatcher, who studied chemistry in the very laboratories Soddy would design at Oxford.

 

Frederick SODDY and his family appear  in the 1881 Census. He appears to have stayed among the servants:

Dwelling: 6 Bolton Rd : Eastbourne, Sussex, England

Benjamin SODDY, Widower age 58 Male. Born London, Middlesex, England. Head of Household, a Corn Merchant.

Lydia E. SODDY Unmarried aged 27. Female born Walworth, Surrey, England, his daughter.

John W. SODDY aged 8. Male born Walworth, Surrey, England, his son, a scholar

Joseph SODDY aged 6. Male born Walworth, Surrey, England, his son, a scholar

Thomas E. SODDY aged 5. Male born Walworth, Surrey, England, his son

Margaret ROBERTS Widow aged 72 Female born Tuxford, Nottingham, England, his servant (Cook/Domestic)

Mercy RELF Unmarried aged 24. Female born Wadhurst, Sussex, England, his servant (Nurse/Domestic)

Eliza J. ROBERTS Unmarried aged 14. Female born Lambeth, Surrey, England, his servant (General Domestic)

Frederick SODDY aged 3. Male born Eastbourne, Sussex, England, his son

 

Another dwelling, at 243 Walworth Road, Newington, Surrey, England contained:

Benjamin SODDY, Married aged 25 Male born Newington, Surrey, England. Head of Household, a Corn & Flour Merchant

Mary SODDY, married aged 23. Female born Eastbourne, Sussex, England, his wife

Gilbert B SODDY aged 2 months Male born Newington, Surrey, England, his son

James SODDY unmarried aged 23, Male born Newington, Surrey, England, his brother, a Corn Merchant

Caroline ISARD unmarried aged 22. Female born Eastbourne, Sussex, England, a visitor

Eliza HEITMAN unmarried aged 21 Female born Chelsea, Middlesex, England, his servant (General Domestic)

 

With the right audience, this very serious child could demonstrate a magical natural experimental talent from an early age.  Faced with indifference or hostility he was frustrated and tongue-tied.  Taught and inspired at local schools, Frederick was fortunately cured of an infant speech impediment along the way.  A fondness for literature grew alongside his early reading of T H Huxley, and he began to develop an ability for clear polemical writing to achieve the effects he wanted. 

 

A clear direction in life was given by attending a lecture on electric light by the Quaker teacher and pioneer of technical education Sylvanus Thompson FRS, Principal and Professor of Physics at Finsbury Technical College and later the first president of the Röntgen Society.  

 

As a result Frederick was enrolled at Eastbourne College under science teacher R. E. Hughes and in the footsteps of H.C.H. Carpenter who became a lifelong friend. Hughes soon left to become an HM Inspector of Schools, but Soddy was sent for a year to Hughes’ old University, the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, to continue his scientific studies until ready for Oxford. Frederick’s older brother Tom Soddy was also attending Aberystwyth for an arts degree with a view to ordination. The brothers had rooms on the sea front ideal for extending their Eastbourne pursuits of sea-swimming, sea-rowing and cycling, and shy Frederick was soon enjoying the conversaziones of Aberystwyth’s more senior women students.  In his Prize Essay submission in 1895 he made some prescient remarks which –as his biographer Linda Merricks points out- hinted at his own scientific future:

 

“Although much has been discovered during late years, it seems highly probable that only the boundaries of the subject have been skirted and that the vast field of research on the borderland between chemistry and physics is almost virgin soil, holding out a bountiful harvest to those who, not content with treading the well-beaten paths of science, are enterprising enough to attack the problem, and patient enough to overcome the difficulties, which pioneers of scientific research always have to encounter.”

 

A STUDENT AT OXFORD

 

In 1895 Frederick obtained a scholarship at Merton College, Oxford.  Although the more senior HCH Carpenter took good care of him in his first year at Merton, and they travelled to Leipzig together in the summer of 1896 where Carpenter studied for his PhD there,  Soddy’s time at Oxford was not quite as scientifically and socially stimulating as he had hoped.  Indeed he felt that Oxford’s science teaching at that time was pretty well disastrous, and gravitated from Merton to the better facilities at Balliol.  But he became a member of the Oxford Union and the University’s Junior Scientific Club. The Club published Soddy’s first scientific paper in its Transactions of May 1898: it was on the Life and Work of Victor Meyer, the brilliant Heidelberg experimentalist and teacher who had taken his own life with cyanide just a few months before. Soddy graduated in 1898 with first class honours in chemistry, impressing his Final Examiner William Ramsay FRS

 

 

Victor Meyer        William Ramsay

 

After two further years of research at Oxford, some working in collaboration with HCH Carpenter (by now at Owens College, Manchester) and some with John Trengove Nance (whose family came from the Cornish uranium mining area around Grampound) under the eye of John Conroy FRS at his highly Canada-aware Balliol Labs,  Soddy crossed the Atlantic and from 1900 to 1902 was Demonstrator in the Chemistry Department of McGill University, Montreal.

 

Ernest Rutherford

Here at McGill, as a chemist, Soddy worked with the New Zealand physicist Ernest Rutherford (six years his senior) on problems of radioactivity. They collaborated to investigate the radioactive gas emanation from Thorium discovered by Rutherford.  After showing that high temperature had no effect on the rate of production, they cooled the substance and condensed liquid Radon.  The two men published a series of papers on radioactivity and concluded that it was a phenomenon involving atomic disintegration with the formation of new kinds of matter. They proposed a theory of radioactivity in 1902 to describe the spontaneous disintegration of radioactive elements into new elements at a rate characteristic for each element. Soddy called this transmutation, borrowing the term from alchemy.  Soddy and Rutherford proposed two decay series, one starting with Uranium ending with Lead, and the other starting with Thorium (Ionium) and also ending in Lead.  They realized that a large amount of energy is involved in radioactive decay, and Soddy thought there might be practical uses if a way could be found to rapidly release the energy.

 

It was a hugely productive partnership, with Soddy the clever catalyst to Rutherford’s powers of analysis. The work of Rutherford and Soddy took some time to emerge in print and was to make them much in demand in scientific circles. It drew the attention of two leading chemists in particular, George Beilby and William Ramsay. 

 

George Beilby

 

 Soddy and Beilby first got to know each other through their mutual friend Henry Cort Harold Carpenter, a protégé of Beilby.  Beilby, by now in his early fifties, had been associated with William Young in the development of Scotland’s shale oil and ammonia industry.  From there he had gone on to develop a cyanide production process to complement the work of Glasgow’s John Stewart MacArthur, using cyanide to massively increase gold recovery at goldmines.

  

,        William Young      John Stewart MacArthur

 

Beilby productive association from 1892 with the Glasgow-based Cassel Cyanide Company helped to make him a fortune in this field.  Then, with a later sodium cyanide process to his credit, Beilby became a director of the Castner-Kellner Company at Runcorn and he developed their new Tyneside facilities at Wallsend.  Also involved in the development of the aluminium industry in Britain, Beilby was instrumental in founding the Scottish branch of the Society of Chemical Industry (SCI). He was the Society's President in 1899. His work and contacts drew him increasingly to the centre of British scientific and industrial progress, which he sought to advance strategically in the practical application of atomic chemistry, metallurgy, and fuel economy.

 

George Beilby had married Emma Clarke Newnham a daughter of the Baptist manse at Dublin Street, Edinburgh in 1877. Their first  house was close to the Oakbank oilworks in western Midlothian. Oakbank was a successful shale mining and retorting company set up as an investment by leading anaesthetist Sir James Young Simpson and other Edinburgh professional men.  Beilby was employed to provide leading-edge science to keep the company ahead of its Scottish rivals and the foreign crude oil producers.  He fulfilled their expectations and soon the couple were able to move back to the fringes of Edinburgh, to a large villa at St Kitts, Colinton where their children Hubert and Winifred grew up.  Later the family moved to Glasgow, to University Gardens, Kelvingrove, not far from the Cassel Cyanide Company plant at Maryhill.  From an imposing corner house overlooking the newly relocated Glasgow University, Beilby was to exercise influence on British technology and industry.

 

Beilby house opposite Glasgow University

 

Beilby had no official standing at Glasgow University but he nevertheless worked closely with fellow chemist Sir William Ramsay in promoting the teaching of scientific and technical subjects there --and at the Glasgow Technical College which Beilby helped to guide.  The two men could not have been more different in personality, but both were believers in the connection between scientific and practical education, and aware of continental approaches to training. They looked on the two Glasgow institutions as complementary, and considered the advancement of science and technology for the chemical industries which were then concentrated in Glasgow as vital to trade, security and the future of civilisation. 

 

William Ramsay      G.G. Henderson

At Beilby’s right hand to deliver this integration in Glasgow was George G. Henderson, Freeland Professor of Chemistry at the Technical College, later to be Regius Professor at the University. Like Beilby, Henderson was a leading light of the Society for Chemical Industry and like him became President of the Institute of Chemistry in due course.

 

Frederick Soddy

Beilby was exceptionally keen to foster work in the borderland between physics and chemistry, and the researches in radioactivity planned by Rutherford and Soddy at McGill University.  Rutherford hoped to come to Scotland through a professorship at Edinburgh in 1901.  Soddy, who had already impressed Ramsay at his Final Examination, visited Glasgow that year and through his school friend H.C.H. Carpenter met Beilby there at the British Association meeting in September.  By 1903 Soddy had successfully completed his Montreal research on transmutation with Rutherford, though publication of the work seemed painfully slow.  The findings flew in the face of established scientific views and clearly had potentially far-reaching governmental and financial implications, perhaps these factors explained some of the delay.

 

In 1903 Soddy left Canada to work with the newly knighted Sir William Ramsay at University College, London where he continued the study of radium emanation.  Seeing some radium for sale in a shop window, Soddy bought 20 milligrams and examining it spectroscopically found that pure radium produces helium spectra.  Soddy concluded that helium came from alpha rays.  So Soddy and Ramsay were able to demonstrate spectroscopically that the element helium was produced in the radioactive decay of a sample of radium bromide and that helium was evolved in the decay or emanation. This led popular science writer W.A.Shenstone to speculate about the possibilities for transmutation of elements in Cornhill Magazine in November 1903 and the cat was out of the bag.  [Later, in 1910 William Ramsay and Robert Whytlaw Gray would measure the density of radon, the heaviest of the inert gases, establishing its atomic mass.]

 

Soddy and Beilby were together again at the 1903 British Association meeting, where they were shown the research laboratories developed by Arthur Schuster FRS in the University Physics Department at Manchester. At that time they were among the largest in the world and in due course Rutherford was brought in to head them when Schuster retired.  Soddy was duly found a post to form and lead a small research team in physical chemistry and radioactivity in Glasgow University. He came to live in the Beilby household at 11 University Gardens in 1904, where he began the most productive period of his life.  Soddy was probably glad to separate his skill as an experimenter from the impetuous and showmanlike Ramsay, and to find a congenial home base in which to share a methodical devotion to beauty truth and duty.   He was in no doubt about the power his researches might unleash. Lecturing the Royal Engineers in 1904, Soddy said ''The man who put his hand on the lever by which a parsimonious nature regulates so jealously the output of this store of energy would possess a weapon by which he could destroy the earth if he chose.''  Soddy (later Nobel Laureate for Chemistry) was engaged to Beilby’s daughter Winifred when she came of age in 1906.  Winifred Beilby was on the threshold of her career as a recognised researcher in radioactivity.  They were married two years later in 1908. 

 

WISE AND HELPFUL PARENTS-IN-LAW

 

 

Sophia Jex-Blake     Margaret Todd

 

This may be a good place to break off from Soddy’s story and chart the remaining years of George Beilby.  George and Emma Beilby had enlightened interests in women’s rights, mountain walking, the arts and medicine, and supported the work of Sophia Jex-Blake and her Bruntsfield Hospital for women in Edinburgh, where a Beilby Ward was endowed.  It was in the Beilbys’ Glasgow home at 11 University Gardens that a close friend of the family, Jex-Blake's biographer and companion the medical novelist Margaret Todd, suggested that Soddy use the word “isotope” to describe the atoms of a chemical element with the same atomic number and position in the periodic table and near-identical chemical behaviour but different atomic masses and physical properties.  It was Beilby who gave Soddy and his team 50 kilograms of uranyl nitrate on which to begin research into what became known as the disintegration theory.  It was Beilby who smoothed the way for Soddy to obtain supplies of the radioactive material needed in Scotland for research and medical applications. Beilby’s colleague in the Cassel patents, J. S. MacArthur (the benefactor of Balliol College) developed radium production first at Runcorn then at Balloch on Loch Lomond.  And it was the Beilbys, husband and wife, who in 1912 symbolically gave the money to repay Madame Curie for the radium sample that Soddy and others had used to establish the international standard for radioactivity.

Marie Curie in 1912

 

George Beilby was in his prime during Soddy’s time at University Gardens.  In February 1904, Beilby presented the centenary lecture at the Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow on advances in chemical industry during the nineteenth century.  He chaired the chemical section of the British Association held in South Africa in 1905 and in 1906 attended the International Congress of Applied Chemistry in Rome, visiting Switzerland for a family mountain holiday along the way. He was later to preside over the Institute of Chemistry (1909 -12) and the Institute of Metals (1915-18). He was Chairman of the Governors of the Royal Technical College in Glasgow from 1907.  As a metallurgist, Beilby postulated that a film forms on the surface of a metal by plastic flow when a metal is polished. From his work in shale oil and cyanide production, he had noted the destructive effect of ammonia on metals at high temperatures. Researching the flow of solids, Beilby inferred that when a solid is caused to flow, as in polishing, the crystalline surface is broken down to a harder and denser layer. Although much criticized, this controversial theory of what became known as the Beilby Layer explained the hardening of metals under cold working and helped to stimulate further research.

 

Alexander Fleck

Alexander Fleck, a friendly and perceptive fourteen year old employed in 1904 to keep Soddy’s radio-activity laboratory tidy at Glasgow University became a trusted member of the team.  Like members of a family business, Fleck would accompany patriarch Beilby and elder brother Soddy to the Cassel chemical works at Maryhill to help sort out practical problems there.  In due course after technical classes he was encouraged to enrol and obtain a degree in chemistry.   The degree of trust was such that in 1913 Fleck took over Soddy’s post as technical adviser to the West of Scotland Radium Committee, and obtained a doctorate for his subsequent thesis on Some chapters of the chemistry of the radio-elements.   In 1916 he left the University to become chief chemist at Beilby’s Castner-Kellner plant in Wallsend.  After Beilby’s death, the interests in Cassel Cyanide and Castner-Kellner were amalgamated with partners in Brunner Mond and a number of other firms to form Imperial Chemical Industries in 1926.

 

Fleck planned the amalgamation of the Wallsend and Maryhill plants on a large new site at Billingham, and with an instinct for practical issues and good industrial relations he rose through the company to became head of ICI worldwide.  He chaired the committees set up following the Atomic Energy Establishment’s Windscale accident in 1957.  Presiding over the British Association meeting in Glasgow in 1958, Fleck unveiled a plaque to Soddy and, delighted to find his own name also there, exclaimed “It’s no every man gets his name on a brass plate before he’s deid!”

 

 

But to return to Fleck’s mentor and Soddy’s father in law - George Beilby served on the Admiralty Board of Inventions and Research, advising on matters relating to the production and use of oil for the Navy.  His membership of the Royal Commission on Oil Fuel from 1912, and his knowledge of Scottish techniques and investments in oil production at home and abroad led indirectly to Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty taking a major government shareholding in the Glasgow-based Burmah Oil Company’s substantial Anglo-Persian interests in 1913. This, by bringing together all the Scottish oil-shale businesses and refining expertise, was to form the basis for the semi-nationalised company that became BP.

 

George Beilby

 

Pursuing his personal interest in new forms of oil production and more efficient energy use, George Beilby was appointed chairman of the Fuel Research Board and director of its Fuel Research Station.  This new research facility at East Greenwich was laid out under Beilby’s personal care, reflecting his idea of what a centre of national research on the scientific utilization of fuel should be.  He held this position for six years during and after the war, publishing the record of the centre’s studies and experiments in Fuel Research reports issued annually by the government’s Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.

 

Beilby worked hard to survey of the properties of the various types of coal and brown coal available in the British Isles with a view to their more scientific utilization. He also explored techniques to make Britain self-sufficient in fuel oils, in view of emerging wartime naval requirements that were soon to become pressing.  The Royal Commission on Fuel and Engines for the Navy, 1912-13, had reported that the way ahead lay in the development of a new carbonising industry, founded on the distillation of coal at a temperature well below that used in gas retorts and coke ovens.  Beilby ensured that the scientific and technical problems of this approach were solved so that an adequate supply of oil fuel could be produced if the need had continued, but with low - temperature distillation coke was the main product of the process and its commercial disposal remained a problem.  One result of Beilby’s attempts to standardise town gas supplies efficiently was the establishment of the "therm" as the basis for the charging of town gas to consumers.

 

 In these later years Beilby lived mainly in Hampstead and towards the end of his life became associated with University College, London. He was knighted in 1916 and died in Hampstead in 1924.  Writing his obituary for the Chemical Society, his old friend and colleague George Henderson quoted the words of the Committee of the Privy Council for Scientific and Industrial Research paying tribute to Beilby’s wise and experienced counsel, to his scientific and practical knowledge freely given in wartime and the hard years that followed: “Through all, his aim and effort were to help to the utmost the re-establishment of this land and people”.

 

From his first days as an inventor, in each of the processes he pioneered, Beilby had sought to make the most productive and economical use of raw materials and fuel, and to minimise smoke and other polluting wastes. He took a lively concern in the role of science and technology in human welfare and progress. He was warmly interested in the arts. He researched the properties and permanency of artists’ materials, and over many years took painstaking pleasure in designing and hand-building extensive home organs in the houses where he lived. After his death, the organ he had built himself at 11 University Gardens was carefully dismantled and reinstalled in the hall of Glasgow Royal Technical College, George Street at the expense of Emma Beilby by organ builders Hill Norman & Beard, and it was inaugurated at a public concert of his favourite music there in 1926.

 

 

HCH Carpenter

 

When Soddy’s friend the metallurgist H.C.H. Carpenter wrote George Beilby’s obituary for the Royal Society in 1925, he ended with this tribute: “A study of Beilby's life and work as a whole leaves a vivid impression of his greatness. He was a successful manufacturer and an acute and patient scientific investigator.  Though he gave the impression of alertness and quickness of thought, his mind really preferred to work slowly and cautiously.  It was speculative, but always scientifically controlled.  It was this quality which gave his scientific work its peculiar value.  He was also a great public servant and citizen.  He possessed great nobility of character and endeared himself by his personal qualities to his friends.  He had in a pre-eminent degree the quality of charm, and this was felt not merely by his intimate friends but by those who met him, perhaps only a few times.  He carried in his face a look of rare high-mindedness and elevation.  Probably no-one will ever know the full extent of his generosity, for it was always exercised in the quietest possible way, and it is doubtful whether anyone has ever helped so many other investigators, whatever their age, or helped them in a more perfect way.”

 

UNDER BEILBY PROTECTION

By 1904 Soddy was eager to disengage himself from Ramsay whose inaccuracies and speculative enthusiasms were beginning to get a bad name. As we have seen, he was found a place at Glasgow -a city then at the height of its prosperity and a centre of education and industry with which Ramsay had close connections. From 1904 to 1914 Soddy was lecturer in physical chemistry and radioactivity in the University of Glasgow and staying across the road at the house of one of the outstanding industrial chemists of this era.

 

In 1905 Ramsay endorsed the Industrial and Engineering Trust Ltd and its supposed secret process to extract gold from seawater. The Trust bought property along the English coast to implement the process, but quickly faded from public view, and never produced any gold.  The bucket of cold water was administered by George Beilby in his address to the Chemical Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in South Africa.  He spoke sharply of the Gold from Sea-water Myth. After describing his cyanide process for gold extraction, Beilby recalled the fact that according to Professor Liversidge. sea-water contained on the average about one grain of gold per ton. No drop, however small it might be, could be removed from the ocean which would not contain many millions of gold molecules and no point of its surface could be touched which was not thickly strewn with them.  From this molecular point of view one must realise that our ships floated on a gilded ocean.  From time to time adventurers arose who attempted to launch on this gilded ocean unseaworthy ships freighted with the savings of the trusting investor.  Beilby pointed out the weakest of the cyanide solutions he had referred to was richer in gold than sea-water was reported be. practical conclusion from this comparison was obvious.  If the cyanide process expert, whose business was extract from dilute solutions, found that it did not pay to carry this extraction to lesser concentrations two or three grains per ton. even when the solution was already in his hand, and when, therefore, the costs of treatment were their minimum, how could it possibly pay to begin work to extract gold from sea-water which would have to be impounded and treated by methods more costly in labour and materials than the simple process of zinc-box precipitation?  It was generally unsafe to prophesy, he said, but in this case was he was rash enough to risk the prediction that it ever the gold mines the Transvaal were shut up it would not be because of competition from the gold resources of the ocean.

 

ln 1908, Soddy was to marry Beilby's scientist daughter Winifred.  In the Glasgow University laboratory across the road Soddy did much practical chemical work on radioactive materials. During this period he evolved the so-called "Displacement Law", namely that emission of an alpha-particle from an element causes that element to move back two places in the Periodic Table. His peak was reached in 1913 in formulating the concept of isotopes, the idea that certain elements exist in two or more forms which have different atomic weights but which are indistinguishable chemically.  As we’ve seen, the word "isotope" was suggested to him by the Beilby's friend medical novelist Margaret Todd (companion and biographer of Sophia Jex-Blake) as a way to describe the atoms of a chemical element with the same atomic number and position in the periodic table and near-identical chemical behaviour but different atomic masses and physical properties.

 

Soddy's classic paper on The Radio-elements and the Periodic Law was communicated to Chemical News 107, 97-9 (1913) from the Physical Chemistry Laboratory at Glasgow University on February 18, 1913. In his so-called "Displacement Law", evolved in his Glasgow researches, Soddy proposed that an element emitting an alpha particle is transmuted into the element two spaces to the left on the periodic table, whereas an element emitting a beta particle is transmuted into the element immediately to the right. These rules opened a way to understand the decay series, linking with Soddy's proposal of isotopes to explain differing atomic weights for samples of the same element produced by different forms of decay.  For these contributions to the understanding of radioactive decay and isotopes he was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1922. 

 

Earlier, in 1914, he'd been appointed Professor of Chemistry at the University of Aberdeen, but plans for research were hampered by the war. In 1919 Soddy had became Dr. Lees Professor of Chemistry in his old university at Oxford, a post he held till 1937 when he retired on the death of his wife.  For just a few years in the early twenties he would be a safe pair of hands at the heart of the scientific establishment.

 

 

 

1921:THE KING’S SHILLING

 

1921: Queen Mary & King George V and his Prime Minister David Lloyd George (with Prince Hirohito)

Before his retrospectively-awarded Nobel laureateship, travelling as a King's Messenger in September 1921, Soddy famously brought the largest quantity of radium into Great Britain from Prague, arriving at Victoria Station. It was a duty to medicine and the scientific community.  This was a task of great responsibility and danger, bearing in mind what the press called radium's "malignant penetrative properties". The 2 gram consignment in 9 glass phials was packed in a lead case 3 inches thick weighing about 70 pounds and carried in an ordinary Foreign Office bag, sealed by an official of the Czecho-Slovak government. The intended recipient was the Imperial and Foreign Corporation of London, a British state holding umbrella for extensive Russian and other overseas financial uncertainties at that time.  Imperial and Foreign was directed by émigré Russian banker Grigori Benenson, his London agent Herbert Guedalla, and an assortment of British worthies including Lord Balfour of Burleigh head of the Bank of Scotland, leading accountant and former Lord Mayor of Liverpool Sir Harmood Banner MP, Sir I Heathcoat-Amory and Stafford Cripps’s older brother, a son of Lord Parmoor.   Austen Chamberlain had chaired the company in the days before the war.  Imperial & Foreign Corporation was most notably also the organisation which under the technical direction of Frederick Handley-Page was disposing of tens of thousands of world war aircraft, engines and parts, taking up a large part of Regents Park in the process.

    

Grigori Benenson   Herbert Guedalla    Fred Handley-Page

 

Here is how the Nottingham Evening Post described the original Radium agreement on 17 September 1921:

"BRITISH MONOPOLY OF RADIUM. IMPORTANT DEAL WITH CZECHOSLOVAKIA.

After prolonged negotiations, Mr. Sidney Reilly, on behalf of the Imperial and Foreign Corporation London, has signed an agreement with the Czecho-Slovak Government for a monopoly cf the entire output of radium from the Czecho-Slovak State mines. The basis of the contract that the radium mines remain the property Czecho-Slovakia, but will be farmed out to the Corporation for a number of years. This event is of importance, because Czecho-Slovakia possesses practically the only radium mines in Europe. The present market price of radium £35,000 (sterling) per gramme. "

 

A week later, on 26 September the same paper had this to say

FIRST RADIUM "CARGO". TWO GRAMMES, WORTH £70,000, ARRIVE LONDON.

Professor Soddy, Oxford University, has arrived in London from Paris with the first consignment to this country radium from the deposits Joachim-thal, Czecho-Slovakia. The amount two grammes, worth about, £70,000. On receipt will be placed in the laboratory at Oxford. The transport radium is a difficult, even dangerous matter. It is necessary to place a leaden box weighing 701b. protect the manipulator against its penetrating rays. It was arranged that Professor Soddy should travel from Paris to England in special cabin on the boat, and in special train on shore, his progress being facilitated in every possible manner. The agreement between the Government of and the Imperial and Foreign Corporation was only signed about a week ago, and the deal is a triumph for British and Czecho-Slovak enterprise. Credit is due to Mr. Herbert Guedalla, General Spears and Mr. Sidney Reilly, who have worked with zeal to bring about the arrangement which gives Great Britain access to the greatest radium deposits Europe.  " England," said the professor, “is very lucky in securing this great scientific prize. This country is to have the use on loan for 15 years, when it will returned Czechoslovakia."

 

The Western Gazette, in its 30 September Summary of the Week, placed the radium news beneath a report of an uncharacteristically racist speech by Churchill:

“MR. CHURCHILL SPEAKS OUT. Speaking on Saturday at Dundee, where the mob caused some trouble to the police, Mr Churchill attributed the prevalence of unemployment to the breakdown of international trade. Socialist agitation, and taxation due to the war. One of the causes of depression in trade, he said, was the awful catastrophe in Russia, brought about a gang of professional revolutionaries, mostly Jews. The same sort of people had done their best, during the past two years, to ruin Britain.  

RADIUM FOR ENGLAND. Professor Soddy, Oxford University, arrived in London on Sunday night, from Paris, with the first consignment this country of radium from the deposits of Joachimsthal, in Czecho Slovakia.  The amount is two grams, worth about70,000. On receipt it will be placed in the laboratory at Oxford. The transport of radium is a difficult even a dangerous, matter. It is necessary to place it in leaden box weighing 70lb to protect the manipulator against its penetrating rays.”

 

Soddy was the public face of this transfer, and it is interesting to note that the destination of the radium is at first given as his Oxford laboratory.  Later reports show the destination for the time being as the Foreign Office. No doubt they had a suitable safe.

 

Here is how the journal Science described Frederick and Winifred Soddy's visit to Joachimsthal and their subsequent radium transfer in October 1921:

"RADIUM FOR ENGLAND

DR. FREDERICK SODDY, professor of chemistry in Oxford University, travelling as a King's Messenger, has arrived in London from Prague, bringing with him the largest quantity of radium, valued at about £70,000, ever brought into England. The consignment consists of two grams and is the first to be received under the terms of the recent agreement between the Imperial and Foreign Corporation of London and the Czecho-Slovakia Government. The radium was deposited at the Foreign Office and will remain there for the time being, its exact future, according to Professor Soddy, being a matter for negotiation.

Professor Soddy is reported in the London Times from which we obtain this information to have said that while on holiday with his wife in Czecho-Slovakia he visited the Joachimsthal mines and was given every facility for inspecting them and the various processes by which the radium was extracted from the uranium obtained in the mines. The agreement mentioned above having been concluded, he was asked by the Corporation, to whom he is the expert scientific adviser, to make arrangements for the transport of the radium to England, a task of considerable responsibility and some danger, in view of its malignant penetrative properties. The two grams were distributed in nine glass phials, packed in a lead case 3 in. thick and weighing about 70 lb. This was contained in an ordinary Foreign Office dispatch-bag, which was finally sealed by an official of the Czecho-Slovakia Government.

" I am sure," Professor Soddy added, "that this radium will be an enormous help to British science and medicine. It is of exceptionally pure quality. The cry of the medical profession has hitherto been, 'We can not get enough.' The greatest amount I have so far ever had to work with has been 30 milligrams. There will be more shipments of radium from Czechoslovakia, but not necessarily to England."

It was explained that the radium will be lent freely for hospital purposes, and rented out to private practitioners. It will also be used for the production and sale of radioactive water in bottles, for use at radio-sanitoria, the production and sale of radio-active fertilizers, and for its by-products, such as polonium. The company expects to derive its first profits from the renting out of the radium emanations contained in capillary tubes, the price for the use of which at present is six guineas for 24 hours. One gram of radium supplies 4,500 of such tubes.

The Czecho-Slovak Legation in London has made public the following in regard to the contract entered into by the Czecho-Slovak Government, as the owners of the Radium State Mines in Jachymov (Joachimsthal), and the Imperial and Foreign Corporation of London: Under this contract the Radium Corporation of Czecho-Slovakia, a private limited company, has been established, the Czecho-Slovak state and the Imperial and Foreign Corporation holding equal interests. The Radium Corporation will obtain the loan for a period of 15 years of the radium production of the state mines, less a certain portion which is to be reserved for public use, especially for curative and scientific purposes. The radium so lent to the Corporation will remain the property of the Czecho-Slovak state. The contract does not contain anything relative to the working of the radium mines, which will be, as before, exploited by the Czecho-Slovak state."

                  

Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Beneš and King’s Messenger Soddy

As a minor historical footnote, Eduard Benes, by then head of the Czechoslovak  Government in Exile, came to Soddy’s old academic home, the Chemistry Department of Glasgow University, to deliver a lecture there twenty years after these events in November 1941.

 

Soddy's role in the radium transfer was probably sanctioned not so much by Lord Curzon the Foreign Secretary as by Prime Minister Lloyd George and his Trade Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Robert Horne who was MP for Glasgow Hillhead and in 1922 became Rector of Aberdeen University. Lloyd George and Horne had with the Soviet side arranged the controversial Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement from beginnings early in 1920 to final signature in March 1921, with help from Philip Lothian and Fridtjof Nansen, and in some ways the ambitious plans for Aircraft Disposal and the Radium Corporation could be seen as a follow-on, as there was now prospect of clearing some of the Russian debts to British creditors assigned to Imperial and Foreign and of profiting from the vast Lena Goldfield concession.

 

Foreign Secretary Curzon  did not enjoy the Prime Minister's support at this time. Lloyd George thought him pompous and self-important, and it was said that he used him as if he were using a Rolls-Royce to deliver a parcel to the station.  Maybe Lloyd George saw Soddy in the same way.  But the real British government connection with Soddy -and with his father-in-law George Beilby- is not Lloyd George but Sir Robert Horne, MP for the University area of Hillhead Glasgow and Chancellor of the Exchequer, a man at the heart of the world of chemical industry, minerals and metals and whose interests reached to labour relations and strategic Government stakes in key businesses. 

 

Horne’s time teaching in Bangor had made him a familiar of Lloyd George, just as his Glasgow and Aberdeen University connections brought him close to Soddy.  Both men were inclined to foster links with Russia for different reasons.  Soddy’s eyes shone with scientific and political idealism for the future of mankind.  Horne was keen to unlock Britain’s past business investments in Russia and the country’s vast mineral potential in the cause of world trade.  It was Horne who negotiated the Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement to facilitate trade between the United Kingdom and the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic. Progress with the negotiations were hampered by some uneasiness on the British government side, not all politicians were as keen as Horne.  Lenin sent out a tacit message in support of Horne and his friends when he told 8th All Russian Congress of Soviets on 21 December 1920:

The treaty, the trade agreement with Britain is not signed yet. At this very moment Krasin is conducting urgent talks on it in London. The British government has handed us its draft, we have given our counterdraft, but it is still obvious that the British government is dragging its feet over the agreement because the reactionary war party is still hard at work there; it has had the upper hand so far and is hindering the conclusion of a trade agreement. It is in our direct interest, and it is our direct duty to give all our support to whatever can help to fortify those parties and groupings who are striving for the signature of this treaty with us.

Sir Robert Horne

No doubt the noises from Russia helped Sir Robert to keep Britain’s mines going.  Preserving delicate labour relations at a critical time strengthened his reputation in the coalition government as a consummate fixer.  His successors in the later 1920s would not be so lucky.  Although wanting to keep him inside the tent, fellow Tories Bonar Law and Stanley Baldwin were not so trusting of Horne as Lloyd George had been: Baldwin called this womanising son-of-the-manse ‘the Scots cad’. The wily old bird Arthur Balfour still had his finger on the pulse of national and international political life and was more generous in his view.  In return Horne summed up Balfour with his appreciation of industry and science and long-term strategy: “taking it all round he was the most distinguished figure in the world”.

 

The Anglo-Russian Trade Agreement was signed on 16 March 1921 by Horne himself as President of the United Kingdom’s Board of Trade (soon to take office as Chancellor of the Exchequer) and Leonid Krasin, People's Commissar of Foreign Trade.  Ivan Maisky, later Russia’s ambassador in London, underlined the importance of Horne’s agreement:  “This diplomatic document, though modest in scope, is of truly historic significance. The Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement was not an ordinary trade treaty with the mere object of regulating commercial operations between two countries; it was an agreement of politico-commercial character: it gave the RSFSR de facto recognition by the most powerful capitalist power in Europe, a power which in those days still successfully contended with the USA for the role of the foremost capitalist country in the world.”

 

 

UNWELCOME PUBLICITY

What was the outcome of Frederick Soddy’s efforts and the publicity which now surrounded him at home and abroad?  Perhaps unexpectedly, some information about earlier attempts at gold-making came to the surface. On 22 November 1921, within a few weeks of his return, he felt obliged to warn the public by advertisement  against the fraudulent use of a letter written by him referring to tests made by him of a process alleged to make gold.”  As he explained in an interview:  “I just wanted to warn the public against the fraudulent use of my name in regard to an alleged process of gold-making which has nothing in it.  I am advertising at my own expense and do not wish to give names.  That is for the police”.

Could this be oblique acknowledgement of Soddy’s connection to the Kosmoid transmutation project in Glasgow and Dumbarton back in 1904?   Dr Sheils, the public proponent of the Kosmoid venture and the uncle of rising MP Walter Elliot (Elliot would later introduce free school milk and a government radium fund for cancer treatment) had met his end before the Great War.  But Sheils’s alchemical superviser J.J. Melville was still at large and ready to make claims which could hardly be substantiated, let alone transubstantiated. 

With Christmas passed and the New Year of 1922 begun, Professor Soddy was again in the public eye in the affair of the poisoned chocolates. Perhaps Soddy was doubly sensitive to dangers and skulduggery because of the clandestine mission he’d just taken part in.  The chocolates undoubtedly produced emanations, but they were journalistic ones which exposed Oxford University and Soddy to worldwide ridicule. 

Vice Chancellor Farnell had been sent some suspicious chocolates which Soddy took charge of and pronounced dangerous, though the student body rumoured it was just a prank and they had only been sprinkled with tooth powder.  Professor Soddy emerged from the university’s chemistry laboratories to declare that he had examined the chocolates and  found powdered glass which “as everyone knows is a favourite Eastern poison”.  But Soddy was then informed that ‘all Oxford, with the exception of Dr. and Mrs. Farnell and certain chemistry professors, has long been aware that the deadly compound consists of ordinary tooth powder  Trying to salvage his scientific dignity with a bit of reciprocal humour Soddy admitted that “It would appear that the work was not that of a half-witted fanatic, as it at first appeared, but of some undergraduate, who seems to have been singularly unfortunate in his choice of tooth powders.  If so, may I advise him not only to desist from such methods of cleaning his teeth, but also to own up and earn the gratitude of the general public, if not of dentists, by revealing the name of the maker of his charming dentifrice”. 

Soddy had to take the blame for the bad publicity.  “The Vice Chancellor himself would not have treated the matter as anything but a hoax if it had not been for me.  On the strength of my report the Vice Chancellor handed over the box to the police.  I may say that I certainly should have done so if he had not.”  The box was duly passed over to the Home Office for analysis, with unclear results.

RECOGNITION AND AFTER

The rest of 1922 was a time for Soddy to take stock of his work on isotopes, first with a paper to the April Solvay Conference on Chemistry in Brussels, and then for a paper delivered at his retrospective 1921 Nobel Laureateship in Stockholm in December 1922.  There was naturally a fair amount of crossover between the two papers.  Soddy’s retrospective nomination and award for the 1921 Laureateship in Chemistry (the nominations in 1921 had not been up to standard) was cited as "for his contributions to our knowledge of the chemistry of radioactive substances, and his investigations into the origin and nature of isotopes". The belated international recognition was very well deserved.  But it also cleared the way for the award of the 1922 Laureateship in Chemistry to the Cambridge isotope researcher Francis W. Aston (1877-1945) at the same ceremony.  Aston’s citation was "for his discovery, by means of his mass spectrograph, of isotopes in a large number of non-radioactive elements, and for his enunciation of the whole-number rule".

Both Soddy and Aston attended the Brussels Conference of the Institut Internationale de Chimie-Solvay at the end of April 1922, where Soddy presented his paper on Isotopes. 

Work currently in progress

 

 

Nobel Laureate for 1921, Oxford’s F. Soddy and Cambridge’s F.W. Aston, Laureate for 1922

 Soddy and Aston are here being serious in Brussels for the Chimie Solvay Conference in April 1922. 

 

 

Speaking at the Nobel Banquet in December Soddy gave thanks “for the very great honour which you have paid to my country, to the University of which I am a member, and to my students and myself, by the award of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for 1921. In the first place, the preparation of the Nobel lecture which I am to give has shown me, even more clearly than I knew before, how many others share with me, often, indeed, have anticipated me, in the discoveries for which you have awarded me the prize. Secondly, I should like to recall that the two former British Nobel laureates in Chemistry, Sir Ernest Rutherford and Sir William Ramsay were both my masters, and it is under them I received my training in scientific investigation. So that it is peculiarly gratifying to me to be chosen to receive the same honour as my distinguished teachers.” 

 

Soddy thought it appropriate “that this unique benefaction, which Science owes to Alfred Nobel, should be in the gift of Sweden and that Stockholm should be its home. Nowhere else, I am sure, in the whole world will one find, from the highest to the lowest, so eager a welcome for, or such universal appreciation of, the intellectual values that it was Nobel's desire to honour and advance.” He ended his banquet speech on a philosophical note:  “The catastrophe which has recently engulfed the world has not been without its own intellectual renaissance. The effects are not yet apparent, but, at least, perhaps not all of us are now totally blind to the dangers ahead, or to the need of that impersonal but remorseless re-examination of the foundations of society, which Science has already applied to the mechanism of the physical universe. Possibly it may fail. Perhaps it may be too late. Even so, yet I cherish the fancy that, whatever may happen in the crowded and fevered countries that are still ranged in fratricidal animosity, here at least, here in the Northlands, truth will endure.”

 

After his time at Glasgow and Aberdeen, his dramatic Czechoslovak assignment and his Nobel Laureateship, Soddy did little further work in radioactivity and allowed later developments to pass him by.  Instead of opening new doors for him, his Nobel Laureateship and Kings’s Messenger role seemed to close a part of his life.  He had proved himself to his parents in law. Writing up his retrospective Isotope papers had brought home to him how far he had come from the mainstream since his Glasgow years. And then seeing the Swedish winter had taken his mind right back to the beginnings of his work in the snows of Canada at Montreal - “the appearance of Stockholm today vividly recalls to me those early and exciting years. Ever since, I have felt that winter in the North speaks to the spirit of man with something of the appeal of Science. Nature is in austere mood, even terrifying, withal majestically beautiful. The pure air and dazzling snow belong to things beyond the reach of all personal feeling, almost beyond the reach of life. Yet such things are a part of our life, neither the least noble nor the most terrible.

 

Soddy and Aston in Stockholm to receive their Nobel honours, December 1922

 

Soddy was exactly the same age as Aston. But Soddy’s achievements were in the past, from that other world before the war.  Aston was chemistry’s man of the moment.  His recent development of the mass spectrograph opened up a whole new horizon of science in which he was poised to take the lead.  Although just as gifted as a practical experimenter, Soddy lacked such a breakthrough.  He also lacked Aston’s supportive academic environment and bachelor bonhomie. Instead he faced a disappointingly childless future exposed to ridicule with uncongenial colleagues and a mouthful of bad teeth.  Did Soddy think it time now to step back from a crowded and fevered environment of fratricidal animosity where truth and beauty could not endure?  Perhaps he felt he had been used.  He seems to have viewed the political and scientific establishment with increasing distaste.  He preferred to work towards the future aloof from the compromises of teamwork with those who were making their way in the beehive world of science and politics.  His father-in-law had once given him an entry to this world but he was now failing. 

 

Would it be a consolation to step aside from a game which now gave Soddy little pleasure?  He had experienced Truth and Beauty, but unlike others in the world of science he felt he could no longer be totally blind to the dangers ahead.  So from now on it would be his Duty to undertake that impersonal but remorseless re-examination of the foundations of society, which Science has already applied to the mechanism of the physical universe.  Soddy’s remaining mental and physical energies were diverted towards economic, social and political theories which gained little general acceptance, to creating a perfect laboratory environment (as his father-in-law Beilby had done at East Greenwich), and to unusual mathematical and mechanical problems.

 

So life continued for Soddy as the Dr Lee’s Professor of Chemistry at Oxford.  Other scientists calculated their orbits and tended to stay clear of his gravitational field,

 

Under construction

 

TWELVE YEARS LATER

Oxford’s old Balliol-Trinity laboratories had been redesigned and refurbished by Professor Soddy and were a model of their kind.  But the atmosphere among University staff was openly hostile to Soddy. As Rutherford’s old collaborator, a mountain walker and outdoorsman with a gift for practical improvisation and experiment, Soddy must have seemed the kind of inspiring scientific figure Jack Mitchell might have admired and looked forward to working with in the autumn of 1935. But by then Professor Soddy had been sidelined.  Frustrated by disputes with the Royal Society and University authorities, he was hardly ever seen.  Young Fred Dainton had gone up to Oxford with a scholarship from Sheffield earlier, expecting to be energised by Soddy whose book The Interpretation of the Atom had done so much to kindle his lifelong enthusiasm for science. But, as Dainton later wrote: “My acute disappointment can be imagined when a few days after arrival at Oxford I was summoned by my chemistry tutor to discuss my programme of work and, referring to lectures, he strongly advised me not to go to those given by the then head of his department, the Old Chemistry Department, then Dr Lee’s Professor of Chemistry, one Frederick Soddy.  I shall always be glad I disregarded my tutor’s advice.  This was not solely due to seeing and hearing at first hand some of the extraordinary work Soddy had done, using the most primitive detectors (I well remember his dexterous handling of a gold leaf electroscope), together with the sense of actually being present when the work was done and sharing in the successes and failures and so beginning to learn something of the joy of discovery.  There were also Soddy’s face and gait; the former being finely chiselled with very steady eyes betokening a man of high principles unwilling to compromise truth as he saw it at whatever cost to personal relations; his gait and bearing suggesting also a very fit man, confident of his own powers and afraid of no man.  I soon found the words used about him in Oxford were typically ‘obstinate and uncooperative’, ‘doesn’t do research any more’, ‘a crackpot, wasting his time with solid geometry problems and deflecting much needed workshop activity from its proper task’, ‘is absorbed by the dotty idea that national economics can be analysed on thermodynamic principles’, ‘espouses fringe political movements, like the Canadian Major Douglas’ Social Credit Party, and New Britain’, and finally ‘a disappointment to himself as well as to us’ Not a good word was said about him despite his having redesigned the antiquated laboratories and their refurbishment down to the smallest detail, and thereby benefiting those who were often his greatest critics as well as the students.”  Soddy was to notice Dainton in the labs when he saw the student’s hillwalking rucksack, and they had a warm conversation about the Cairngorms.  But the chance meeting in the labs in 1934 was not repeated and Dainton never saw Soddy again.

Balliol-Trinity labs at the time of ill-fated Moseley in 1910

The Balliol labs after Soddy’s refurbishment

 

Jack Mitchell makes no mention of Soddy in his autobiographical memoir.  Students and researchers like Jack were selected and shepherded by the dons, there was little opportunity for contact with professors. And Soddy was in every sense an outsider.  He lived outside college with his wife George Beilby’s daughter Winifred.  She, along with Soddy’s school friend H. H. Carpenter, his former laboratory boy Alex Fleck, his Glasgow successor A.W. Stewart, and fitfully his old collaborator Ernest Rutherford (who’d successfully proposed Soddy’s Nobel laureateship) were amongst his only friends in the world of science. It was a dwindling band: Winifred became terminally ill in 1935 and Rutherford died unexpectedly in 1937. Soddy had no circle of intimates at Oxford to shield and support him.  Brigadier Sir Harold Hartley FRS, the former director of the Balliol Trinity labs and Britain’s expert in chemical warfare, was an old antagonist who plainly regarded the Professor as unsound.  Hartley was heavily engaged in strategic science at a national level, and now headed scientific research for the powerful LMS railway company of which he was vice-president.  Hartley’s former academic ally Nevil Sidgwick and his long-term academic protégé Cyril Hinshelwood effectively led the opposition to Soddy amongst the dons across the University and at the labs, with more junior promotees like Harold Warris Thompson (Dainton’s tutor) adding their own criticisms, some justified, some malevolent.

 

 

      Frederick Soddy                       Cyril Hinshelwood

 

Fred Dainton in later life and his Oxford tutor Harold Warris Thompson

 

 

Under construction

 

Frederick Soddy’s books include Radioactivity (1904), The Interpretation of Radium (1909), The Chemistry of the Radioactive Elements (1912-1914), Matter and Energy (1912), Science and Life (1920), The Interpretation of the Atom (1932), The Story of Atomic Energy (1949), and Atomic Transmutation (1953). Soddy was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1910 and Oxford awarded him an honorary degree. He was awarded the Albert Medal in 1951. He was a man of strong principles and obstinate views, friendly with students and prickly with colleagues.

He died on September 22, 1956 at Brighton.

 

 

POSTSCRIPT

From the paper Uranium's Scientific History 1789 - 1939 presented by Dr. Bertrand Goldschmidt at the Uranium Institute in London, September 1989.

 

"Pierre Curie had measured the energy which is spontaneously and continuously produced by radium. To explain this phenomenon he suggested either that radium captured and re-emitted energy from outer space, or that it was due to a continuous and profound modification of the radium atom. He concluded that if the latter hypothesis was valid, 'the energy involved in the transformation of the atom is considerable'.

 

"Rutherford and Soddy later confirmed this conclusion, and Soddy became the first to popularize visions of the good or evil which could result from harnessing the forces present in the heart of matter. He contrasted rose-coloured visions of the creation of paradise on earth and the eradication of deserts and ice-caps, thanks to unlimited resources of cheap energy, with dark nightmares of the destruction of cities and civilization under a hail of radioactive bombs. Sometimes the one followed the other and a happy and united world emerged from the ruins of war, a scenario which inspired the science fiction writer HG Wells in his novel The World Set Free, written in 1913.

"In this novel, full of astonishing predictions, Wells is the first to speak of 'atomic bombs', which are used in a European conflict set in 1956 called 'The Last War', followed by a peace conference, set at Lake Maggiore in Italy, where a new world is organized in which humanity enjoys in everlasting peace the many benefits of atomic energy.

 

"At the start of the book, a university professor gives the following explanation to his pupils.

'This little box contains about a pint of uranium oxide; that is to say about fourteen ounces of the element uranium. It is worth a pound. And in this bottle, ladies and gentlemen, in the atoms in this bottle there slumbers at least as much energy as we could get by burning a hundred and sixty tons of coal. If at a word, in one instant, I could suddenly release that energy here and now it would blow us and everything about us to fragments; if I could turn it into the machinery that lights this city, it could keep Edinburgh brightly lit for a week. But at present no man has an inkling of how this little lump of stuff can be made to hasten the release of its store.' "

 

 

Frederick Soddy family tree,

Winifred Beilby family tree

 Notes on Sir George Beilby FRS (1850-1924)

Beilby’s oil & gas colleague William Young (1840-1907)

 Crystals, photography & flow of metals: John W “Jack” Mitchell FRS (1913-2007)

 

TECHNOLOGY

 

Glasgow 1904: the Kosmoid story 

 

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