When the allies dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945 few were probably aware of the significant Liverpool connection with the research that made their construction possible. The cyclotron installed in Liverpool University in 1939 did more war work than any outside Los Alamos. And the man who oversaw its installation, and went to the USA to work on the Manhattan Project, was the Lyon Jones professor of physics at Liverpool, Nobel Laureate James Chadwick.
Chadwick was born in Bollington, Cheshire on 20th October 1891. The son of a cotton spinner, his family’s financial position meant that he could not take up a scholarship to Manchester Grammar School but after attending the Central Grammar School he won a scholarship to Manchester University. It has been suggested that he enrolled to study physics by mistake but was so taken with the eminent professor, Ernest Rutherford, that he made the subject his life’s work. In 1913 he won a scholarship to study in Germany but the outbreak of the First World War meant that he had to spend four years as an internee. Working on particle physics in 1935 he was awarded the Nobel prize for his discovery of the neutron and in the same year accepted the post at Liverpool University. For his wife Aileen Maud Stewart-Brown, this was a return to her home city, the Stewart-Brown’s being a prominent Liverpool family.
Chadwick was largely responsible for the rejuvenation of the moribund physics department, including the installation of the cyclotron. He was appointed by the government to the Maud Committee, charged with the task of determining if an atomic weapon was feasible. By the spring of 1941 Chadwick was convinced that it was possible to develop an atomic bomb and he went on the become a key member of the Manhattan Project which developed the weapons used against Japan. For his work Chadwick was knighted in 1945.
He returned to his Liverpool post after the war but the moral aspects of his part in the development of the bomb weighed heavily on him. In 1948 he accepted an invitation from his old Cambridge college, Gonville and Caius, to be master, a position he held until 1958. He and his wife then bought a house near Denbigh where they lived for ten years before returning to Cambridge to be near their daughters.
He was made a Companion of Honour in 1971. He died at Cambridge, aged 82, on 24th July 1974.
Throughout his 13 year stay in Liverpool Chadwick lived in Aigburth Vale L17 in a now-demolished house called Otterspool Bank, near Aigburth People’s Hall.
Chadwick pictured with Major General Leslie R Groves, Director of the Manhattan Project
Chadwick's entry in the 1938 Kelly's Directory
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