Lucey, Eric, 1923-2010 (scientific film pioneer)
Eric Lucey was born in Broadheath, Worcestershire on 10 March 1923. He attended boarding school near Cheltenham, where he was given free access to the physics and chemistry laboratories and encouraged to make up his own experiments. In addition to his scientific enthusiasm, Lucey also developed an early interest in craftwork and photography, skills which he was able to employ whilst on war service in India, where for a time he was in charge of the West African Photographic Liaison Services.
After demobilisation, Lucey went on to study science at the University of Edinburgh. In the 1950s, a chance meeting with Conrad Hal Waddington, professor of genetics at the University and director of the Institute of Animal Genetics, led to Lucey being offered the opportunity to establish a Research Film Unit at the Institute. At a meeting of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Lucey had seen one of the earliest films of a cell dividing (shot by Professor Commandon at the Institute Pasteur in Paris), and this event, coupled with Lucey's interest in photography, persuaded him of the potential of film for time manipulation for the biological sciences, as well as other disciplines. Waddington was also aware of this potential, particularly as it would enable his staff at the Institute to use time sampling techniques for close observation, measurement and analysis of embryo development.
The Research Film Unit operated in what was effectively a hut at the back of the Institute building, and for most of the time, Lucey was its sole occupant. Waddington's laissez-faire style of directorship suited him, and he forged relationships with various scientists as well as undertook commissioned work from a number of external organisations. The Film Unit also became known as the social hub of King's Buildings. It closed down after Lucey retired in 1989.
One of the things which defined Lucey's film-making was his manipulation of speed, motion and scale using a variety of techniques, most famously time-lapse and microphotography. He frequently combined state-of-the-art equipment with structures and devices of his own making in order to achieve the effects he wanted. The scope of Lucey's films was terrific. He is perhaps best known for his film showing a flea's jump: this was achieved by delivering a tiny electric shock to the flea and capturing the movement at a thousand frames per second using the ultra high-speed Fastrax camera, the only one in the UK at that time. The film, which was commissioned by the BBC, enabled zoologist Henry Bennett-Clark to minutely analyse the jump and so calculate its speed and force. As a result, Lucey and Bennett-Clark published a joint paper in the Journal of Experimental Biology in 1967. Many of Lucey's films captured other minute scientific processes such as the development of the fruit fly and the embryological development of the chick. Yet he also recorded lectures and interviews with key individuals at the University of Edinburgh (including Waddington), experiments in psychology, linguistics and movement, and events such as the celebrations for the 250th anniversary of the Edinburgh School of Medicine. His film 'Shoreline Sediments' won first prize in the Geography/Geology section at the 5th International Festival of Science and Technical Films in 1970.
Eric Lucey was married with three children and died in Edinburgh on 26 August 2010.
Found in 5 Collections and/or Records:
Correspondence contains invitations to various events, articles and reprints, some research questions and a typescript by Waddington titled 'The Film Unit' discussing the Research Film Unit which was established in the Institute of Animal Genetics in 1950 by Eric Lucey and which ran until his retirement in 1989.
Recto: photograph of Josephine Peace in Constant Temperature Room at the Poultry Research Centre; photograph of chickens in a pen (both November 1955).
Verso: two photographs from a social event at the Institute of Animal Genetics: the first photograph shows Alick Buchanan-Smith, Hugh Donald, Charlotte Auerbach and Geoffrey Beale; the second photograph shows C.H Waddington, Helen Turner, Alan Greenwood and Eric Lucey. Pictures signed 'M.L.'