Mark Oliphant

OliphantMarcus (Mark) Laurence Elwin Oliphant (registered as Olifent Bk 683 p235) born in Kent Town on 8 October 1901, the eldest of Harold George And Beatrice Edith nee Tucker, was one of Australia's great scientists. He graduated from Adelaide University with a scholarship to join Lord Rutherford’s research team at Cambridge University working in the field of nuclear physics. Oliphant's main contribution was the discovery of tritium, an isotope of hydrogen, and the establishment of reactions that take place at collisions between deuterons.

During World War Two, Mark Oliphant worked on improving communication equipment and was part of a team that invented a resonant cavity magnetron, a radar device that was used to track down enemy planes and ships which gave the Allies a huge advantage in air and navy battles and which has an application in modern kitchens in the form of the microwave oven.

By 1943 Oliphant was leading a top secret research in America codenamed the Manhatten Project to be the first to develop the atom bomb.

Following the war, Oliphant returned to Australia in 1950 to help establish the Australian National University in Canberra as the first Director of the Research School of Physical Sciences where he continued his work in nuclear physics. While at the ANU, he developed a railgun which is a form of gun that converts electrical energy into kinetic energy using electromagnetics.

In 1971, Oliphant, now knighted, was appointed Governor of South Australia. In this role he broke with the tradition of being apolitical and continued to be outspoken on a number of matters and especially those relating to the environment. When he retired in his nineties, Sir Mark continued to speak up on issues.

Sir Mark Oliphant AC KBE FRS FAA Hon FRSNZ FTSE died on 17 July 2000 in Canberra.

Click to email Proformat Subscribe