Associates: Politics

Jump To Main Content

Jump Over Banner

Home

Jump Over Left Menu

Dr Godfrey Stafford

Godfrey Stafford was the Director of the Rutherford Laboratory at the time of the take over of the Atlas Computer Laboratory by the Rutherford Laboratory in 1975. He succeeded Gerry Pickavance in 1969. This profile appeared in Quest in October 1970.

Godfrey Stafford

Godfrey Stafford
Large View

Exciting organisation; exciting work; potential; flexibility; faith; one feels that these words are the key to the mind of this quiet spoken man. His deep and genuine interest in everything that is happening at the Laboratory at all levels is apparent from his habit of quietly visiting various sections of the establishment to see and talk to people about their work. His insistence on good communication as a basic essential of the successful running of the Laboratory is also evident. He is very approachable and has what is an invaluable asset for those in command, the common touch. He has a mind which has been described as both probing and analytical. This probing mind, as many people can testify, can be devastating in a discussion as the slightest suspicion of a weakness in any statement is demolished immediately.

Dr. G. H. Stafford, Director of the Rutherford Laboratory for the past year, was born in England in 1920 and moved to South Africa with his family at the age of eight. There he attended the Rondebosch Boys High School then continued his education at the University of Cape Town. Life in those early days was not all study, as he played both rugby and soccer, although his favourite pastime was surfing at the Strand Beach. He took his M .Sc. in physics in 1941 having spent some of his final year on research into cosmic rays resulting in the publication of his first paper on 'The Second Maximum in the Rossi Curve' in Nature, April 1942 and his second 'The Production of Cosmic Ray Bursts by Mesotrons' in the Proceedings of the Royal Society in 1944. Further studies were interrupted by the second world war when in 1941 Godfrey Stafford joined the South African Naval Forces as a Lieutenant Electrical Officer concerned with de-gaussing work in the southern hemisphere. The Temporary Commander of the South African Naval Forces from 1941-46 was Professor Goodlett who had taken the Chair of Electrical Engineering at Cape Town in 1940, eventually leaving that post in 1950 to take up an appointment at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment (AERE) Harwell as Head of Engineering Research and Development, a post he held until 1956. In the early days of his naval service, Lt. Stafford was based on Robben Island, which before the war had been a leper colony. Since the war it has become a prison camp! He then moved to Durban to take over command of a new de-gaussing unit. After 18 months' service in the southern hemisphere he came to England (in 1943) to undertake research work on radar at the Admiralty Research Establishment near Haslemere in Surrey, but after a period on dry land decided that a sea-going appointment was preferable. His final move in his Service life came when he joined, on recommissioning, a fighter direction ship based first in home waters and later with the East Indies fleet.

With the end of hostilities came the opportunity to resume his education and he entered Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, as Ebden Scholar of the University of Cape Town, obtaining his Ph.D. in 1950. During his time at Cambridge he had become interested in nuclear physics, but his future career wa still somewhat obscure. As he says himself: 'Nuclear physics was mostly a shot in the dark as I could have chosen a number of other lines, including crystallography.' At the end of his time at Cambridge he accepted a post with the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) under Sir Basil Schonland who was at that time President of the Council, and later Director of AERE. Dr. Stafford came to AERE, Harwell, under this appointment in 1949 and stayed for just over two years. For the last part of this period he worked on the Cyclotron under the Group Leader, Dr. Pickavance. He recalls this time as most enjoyable and very exciting. However, he was still employed by the CSIR, so in 1951 he returned to South Africa as Head of the Biophysics Sub-Division in Pretoria. Here part of his responsibilities was the importation of all radio-isotopes into South Africa and the development of industrial and medical applications. The work at Pretoria was interesting and varied; for example, an investigation was undertaken using radioactive tracers into the incidence of hook worm in natives employed in the Gold Mines. But one feels that the nuclear physics bug had already penetrated deeply, so that when, in 1954 after a spell of 2½ years in Pretoria, a letter from Dr. Pickavance arrived offering a job at Harwell in the Cyclotron Group, CSIR lost the Head of its Biophysics Sub-Division and the then unborn Rutherford Laboratory acquired a future Director.

Back at Harwell Dr. Pickavance had already started work on the design of the Proton Linear Accelerator (PLA) and the full story of those early days has already been told (see Quest Vol. 3, No.1, Profile of Dr. Pickavance, and Quest Vol. 2, No.3, Research at Rutherford). The Rutherford Laboratory came into being in 1957 with Dr. Pickavance as the first Director and Dr. Stafford as the Head of the PLA Group. The PLA was still under construction at this time achieving its first full energy beam in 1959. By 1963 with the PLA a well established machine he extended his activities and became responsible for the high energy physics programme for Nimrod.

In December of that year a large reorganisation took place at the Rutherford Laboratory resulting in the formation of a number of Divisions in place of the original group structure. Dr. Stafford became Head of the High Energy Physics (HEP) Division whilst still retaining control of the PLA until some time in 1964. The completion and commissioning of Nimrod made 1963 a year of intense activity and excitement. The experimental programme had to be prepared ready for the full operation of the machine and the HEP Division, as it became at the end of 1963, was and still is responsible for the organisation and the co-ordination of the high energy research programme on Nimrod. This brings the Division into close contact with visiting teams from universities and other research establishments, especially as a large percentage of the research physicists and supporting staff in the Division are attached to visiting teams. The setting up of such an organisation was a mammoth task, but his experience in setting up a similar if smaller organisation in the PLA obviously proved of great value.

On the first of April 1966 Dr. Stafford became Deputy Director whilst continuing as Division Head of High Energy Physics. During this period he also worked as a member of one of the research teams on Nimrod. For many years he has had a close association with CERN, the European Organisation Nuclear Research, and still attends the CERN Nuclear Physics Research Committee. He was a keen supporter of the idea of a European Physical Society (EPS) and became a Member of the Steering Committee for its formation. He later acted as Scientific Secretary to the Organising Committee for the inaugural meeting of the Society which was held in Florence in April last year. At the present time he is Chairman of the Conference Committee and as such attends meetings of the Executive Committee and the Council of the EPS.

He regularly attends major conferences throughout the world, has found time to visit all the leading laboratories and has written over 40 papers. This intense activity has given rise to many a story that (a) he never sleeps and (b) he lives at the Laboratory. Readers are assured that he does have a house in Abingdon and he has in fact many interests outside physics.

In 1950 Dr. Stafford married Helen Goldthorpe Clark, an Australian biologist, who is at present having a year off from teaching. He has a son of 19 who has just finished his first year at Cambridge where he is reading mathematics, at his father's old college, Gonville and Caius. Twin daughters of 17 complete the family and they are attending the John Mason School at Abingdon.

Motoring has always been an interest and during his years at Harwell he owned three Rileys. The first was one of the famous Monaco fabric bodied cars, and this was followed by a rather obscure 6 cylinder model. The final Riley was the 1.5 litre, the last of the conventional models. Who's Who lists camping as one of his recreations and this interest and a growing family brought a change in his motoring, so the Riley went and in its place appeared a Mark VII Jaguar. These days he is seen around in a red Hillman Imp.

He confesses to a liking for holidays in Italy, remarking on the need 'to dry out once a year'.

He is also very fond of exploring the English countryside, in particular stately homes and churches. An outward sign of this is a brass rubbing by his son which hangs behind his desk. However, the demands on his time limit such trips to the nearby Cotswolds. Music is another interest and he is a regular supporter of the Abingdon and District Musical Society. He is a keen theatre goer and he and his wife visit Stratford-upon-Avon whenever the opportunity arises.

Asked by a journalist what his aim in science was, Dr. Stafford said: 'A better understanding of the world around us.' One feels that 'the world' is not limited to nuclear physics but includes human beings as well.

Dr. Stafford was born April 1920, and died July 2013.