Skip to main content

Appleton, Sir Edward Victor, 1892-1965 (physicist and principal of the University of Edinburgh)



  • Existence: 1892-1965

Appleton was born in Bradford and educated at local schools and St John's College, Cambridge where he was awarded first class honours and several prizes in both parts of the Natural Sciences Tripos (1913, 1914). He began research at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge with W.L. Bragg, but during his service in the Army Signals in the First World War he developed the interest in valves and 'wireless' signals which informed his subsequent research career. He returned to the Cavendish Laboratory in 1919, continuing to work on valves and, with B. van der Pol, on non-linearity, and on atmospherics. In 1924, in collaboration with M.F. Barnett, he performed a crucial experiment which enabled a reflecting layer in the atmosphere to be identified and measured; subsequent research indicated the existence of more than one reflecting layer. From 1924 to 1936 Appleton was Wheatstone Professor of Physics at King's College, London, directing research teams and, in 1932, heading an expedition to Tromsö in northern Norway as part of the programme of observations scheduled for the Second International Polar Year
He was President of the International Union of Scientific Radio (URSI), 1934-1952. In 1936 he succeeded C.T.R. Wilson in the Jacksonian Chair of Natural Philosophy at Cambridge, where he continued collaborative research on many ionospheric problems, including solar and lunar tides in the E-layer. From September 1936 he served on the re-constituted Committee for the Scientific Survey of Air Defence (the 'Tizard Committee'), and in October 1938 was appointed successor to Sir Frank Smith as Secretary to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR). He remained at the DSIR throughout the Second World War and until 1948 when he was appointed Principal of Edinburgh University. He took up the appointment in May 1949 and remained in office until his death in 1965. Appleton was elected FRS in 1927 (Bakerian Lecture 1937, Hughes Medal 1933, Royal Medal 1950) and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1947 for his investigations into the ionosphere. He was knighted in 1941.

Found in 11 Collections and/or Records:

Correspondence regarding general Epigenetics Research Group matters, 1962-1972

Identifier: Coll-41/8/7/8
Scope and Contents Contains a letter from Edward Appleton to the MRC accepting the Council's offer of financial support for the Research Group (30 May 1962); correspondence concerning Charlotte Auerbach and the Mutagenesis Unit; and correspondence concerning the building of and alterations to the Epigenetics Building (1967-1972).
Dates: 1962-1972

Drafts and notes relating to the Agricultural Research Council enquiry and surrounding issues, c.1951

Identifier: Coll-1391/3
Scope and Contents Contains Sang's handwritten notes on meetings, conversations and lines of thought regarding possible responses or actions to the preparation of the Agricultural Research Council enquiry and its aftermath. There are also annotated drafts of letters to individuals such as Edward Appleton, William K. Slater and W.G Alexander of the Agricultural Research Council, as well as Sang's 'Memorandum on the affairs of the Genetics Laboratory'.

Much material is undated.
Dates: c.1951

General: 1949, 1949

Identifier: BAI 1/17/30
Scope and Contents Correspondence and related items, including letters from his wife Florence Jewel Baillie, his brother Donald Macpherson Baillie, Sir Edward Victor Appleton, Henry Pitney Van Dusen, Hugh Martin and Thomas Forsyth Torrance. Includes material relating the University of Edinburgh, clothing ration books, a paper on eschatology and items relating to an insurance claim due to illness.
Dates: 1949

Letter to Lady Thomson from Sir Edward Appleton, Principal of the University of Edinburgh, 16 Feb 1955

Identifier: Coll-1310/1/1/26/24
Scope and Contents Appleton offers his condolences on behalf of the whole University, stating how much Thomson meant to the University, and referring to his influence on the many students he taught.
Dates: 16 Feb 1955

Memorials and obituaries, 1960-61

Identifier: BAI 11/2
Scope and Contents Memorials and obituaries of John Baillie, from publications, newspapers, minutes and other sources. Authors include Isobel Mary Forrester, John McIntyre, Sir Edward Appleton, Henry Pitney Van Dusen. Also the texts of funeral readings.
Dates: 1960-61

Papers of Sir Edward Victor Appleton

 Fonds — Box: MS.2300
Identifier: Coll-37
Scope and Contents The papers, which are substantial, deal almost exclusively with Appleton's scientific work. There is little personal or private correspondence and almost no surviving material, apart from lectures, speeches and addresses, relating to his public life as scientific administrator or university principal. There are, however, a good run of diaries and engagement books and extensive folders of notes, research ideas, manuscript calculations and data from all periods of Appleton's career, as well as...
Dates: c 1918-1973

Papers relating to the administration of the Ford Foundation grant I, 1960-1972

Identifier: Coll-1364/2/1/1
Scope and Contents Contains: correspondence chiefly between C.H Waddington and the Ford Foundation, Solly Zuckerman, Edward Appleton and Beatty, concerning the application process, associated equipment, salary matters and building works. Also present are typescripts of annual grant reports and details of expenditure to the Foundation.

No correspondence exists between 1960 and 1963.
Dates: 1960-1972

Papers relating to the official Agricultural Research Council enquiry into the Animal Breeding and Genetics Research Organisation, 1950-1952

Identifier: Coll-1391/2
Scope and Contents Contains chiefly correspondence between Sang and individuals within the Agricultural Research Council (ARC); namely the chairman, Lord Victor Rothschild, the secretary, Sir William K. Slater and a senior official, W.G Alexander. Also contains correspondence with colleagues at the genetics section of the Animal Breeding and Genetics Research Organisation, chiefly Cecil Gordon and C.H Waddington as well as the Principal of the University of Edinburgh, Edward Appleton. The papers chiefly concern...
Dates: 1950-1952

Poultry Research Centre Visitors Book, 1947-1964

Identifier: Coll-1057/3/3
Scope and Contents Contains signatures and addresses from visitors to the Poultry Research Centre, as well as pages dedicated to the attendees of particular events, such as Poultry Research Centre 'Christening Party' (1950). There are signatures by academics from universities and institutions around the world, key figures at the University of Edinburgh such as Edward Appleton and J. Russell Greig, and politicians such as Denzil Freeth, Michael Clark Hutchison and Herbert Morrison. The volume also...
Dates: 1947-1964

University of Edinburgh Comprehensive Development Area (1962): drafts and final publication, 1962-1963

Identifier: PJM/PJMA/EUD/B/1.4
Scope and Contents University of Edinburgh Comprehensive Development Area (1962): drafts and final publication consists of: published copy of University of Edinburgh Comprehensive Development Area ( 1962) published copy of University of Edinburgh Comprehensive Development Area...
Dates: 1962-1963