Patrick Blackett

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London, England
Birth Sign
London, England

Patrick Blackett was an English physicist who won the 1948 Nobel Prize in Physics for innovating the ‘cloud chamber’ and discovering electrons and positrons produced in pairs by cosmic radiation. C. T. R. Wilson, his senior colleague, invented the ‘cloud chamber’ for photographing ionized particles. Blackett incorporated a ‘Geiger counter’ into the device, which could detect the passage of an ionized particle through the chamber and immediately initiate the process of photographing the particle in motion. He also conducted geomagnetic field experiments and established the presence of ‘paleomagnetism’ in sedimentary rocks, which resulted in continental drift. His theory was accepted by the scientific community, which had long debated the causes of continental drift. He is often referred to as the ‘father of operational research.’ He had a significant influence as a scientific adviser in a number of British government departments, including those responsible for the development of policies on technology, scientific education, and the manufacture of nuclear armaments. He also advised the British government on technical assistance to India and was a friend of Indian physicist Homi Bhaba, who served as the Indian government’s scientific advisor.

Childhood & Adolescence

Patrick Blackett was born Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett on November 18, 1897 in Kensington, London, United Kingdom. His father was Arthur Stuart Blackett, a stockbroker, and his mother was Caroline Maynard. Marion was his younger sister.

In 1910, he enrolled in a military preparatory school called the ‘Osborne Royal Naval College,’ from which he graduated in 1912 and then transferred to the ‘Dartmouth Royal Naval College.’

He joined the Royal Navy and saw action during the First World War in the ‘Battle of the Falklands’ in 1914 and the ‘Battle of Jutland’ in 1916.

In January 1919, he enrolled at the ‘Magdalene College’ of the ‘Cambridge University’ to complete his studies, which had been interrupted in 1914. In the same year, he resigned from the Navy.

He received his undergraduate degree from ‘Magdalene College’ in 1921 and joined the ‘Cavendish Laboratory’ at ‘Cambridge University’ as a research post-graduate student under the direction of physicist Ernest Rutherford.

Career of Patrick

Patrick Blackett achieved fame in 1924, at the age of twenty-seven, for being able to photograph the ionized particles inside the ‘cloud chamber’ as the contents expanded using a trigger he invented.

Between 1924 and 1925, he worked in Gottingen, Germany, with James Franck. In 1932, he redesigned the ‘cloud chamber’ with the assistance of an Italian physicist named Giuseppe Occhialini, adding a ‘Geiger counter’ that triggered the photography mechanism whenever a particle passed through it, for which he later received the Nobel Prize in Physics.

He joined ‘Birkbeck College’ in London in 1933 as a Professor of Physics, where he conducted extensive research on subatomic particles and narrowly missed being credited with the discovery of the ‘positron’.

In 1934, he became an adviser to the government’s ‘Aeronautical Research Committee’ and then to the Air Ministry’s ‘Committee for the Scientific Survey of Air Defense (CSSAD). While there, he proposed the concept of ‘field research’ or ‘operational research’ as a means of integrating radar technology into combat operations effectively.

In 1937, he was appointed Chairman of the Physics Department at ‘Manchester University.’ He joined the ‘Royal Aircraft Establishment’ as a designer for bombsights at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

During the 1940 ‘Battle of Britain,’ he and a group of scientists dubbed the ‘Blackett’s Circus’ joined the British Army’s ‘Anti-Aircraft Command’ and contributed to the performance of the mechanical assemblies used to aim anti-aircraft guns at enemy bombers.

In 1941, he was assigned to the ‘Royal Air Force Coastal Command,’ where he studied ways to mitigate the German U-boat threat.

That summer, he wrote a paper titled ‘Scientists at the Operational Level,’ in which he defined the term ‘Operational Research (OR).

He was appointed ‘Chief Advisor on Operational Research’ in December 1941 and later promoted to ‘Director of Naval Operational Research’ at the admiralty.

From 1945 to 1946, he served on the ‘Barlow Committee,’ from 1956 to 1960 on the ‘Department of Scientific and Industrial Research,’ and from 1949 to 1964 on the ‘National Research and Development Corporation.

In 1947, he developed the theory of ‘paleomagnetism,’ which aided in establishing the existence of ‘continental drift.’
He also gained notoriety in 1948 for his book on the effects of nuclear energy on military and political decisions.
From 1948 to 1950, he served as Dean of the ‘Faculty of Science’ and as pro-vice chancellor of ‘Manchester University’ from 1950 to 1952.

In 1954, he enrolled at London’s ‘Imperial College of Science and Technology,’ where he focused on geomagnetism.
From 1955 to 1960, he served as dean of the ‘Royal College of Science’ and as pro-rector from 1961 to 1964.
As chief scientific adviser, he was instrumental in the establishment of the British government’s ‘Ministry of Technology’ in 1964.

From 1965 to 1970, he served as President of the ‘Royal Society’ in London. In September 1965, he resigned from the ‘Imperial College.’

Significant Works of Patrick

Patrick Blackett published ‘The Ejection of Protons from Nitrogen Nuclei, Photographed by the Wilson Method’ in 1925, ‘Some Photographs of the Tracks of Penetrating Radiation’ in 1933, and ‘The Craft of Experimental Physics’ in 1933 as well.

In 1948, he published the book ‘Military and Political Consequences of Atomic Energy.’ In 1952, he published ‘A Negative Experiment Relating to Magnetism and the Earth’s Rotation,’ and in 1961, he published ‘Comparison of Ancient Climates with Ancient Latitudes Deduced from Rock Magnetic Data.’

Awards and Accomplishments

Patrick Blackett received the ‘Royal Medal’ from the ‘Royal Society’ in 1940 and the ‘American Medal for Merit’ from the ‘American Medal for Merit Society’ in 1946.

In 1948, he was awarded the Noble Prize in Physics. While Patrick Blackett did not receive a doctorate, he was awarded twenty honorary degrees and memberships in academic and other institutions in eleven countries, including the Soviet Union and China.

In 1956, he was awarded the ‘Order of Companions of Honor,’ and in 1967, the ‘Order of Merit.’ In 1969, he was created a life peer and given the title ‘Baron Blackett of Chelsea’.

Personal History and Legacies

In March 1924, he married Costanza Bayon, a modern language student. From this marriage, he had a daughter named Giovanna and a son named Nichols.

Patrick Blackett died on July 13, 1974, in London, United Kingdom. He is commemorated on the moon with a crater, and the house where he lived from 1953 to 1969 is commemorated with a ‘English Heritage Blue Plaque.’

Estimated Net Worth

The net worth of Patrick is unknown.


Patrick Blackett argued that only scientific education could help close the world’s wealth gap.