Person: Williams (2), Evan James
Evan James Williams was a mathematician and physicist who made outstanding contributions to atomic physics, especially when working with Niels Bohr. During World War II he worked for the Admiralty applying methods of Operations Research to deal with the problem of German U-boats. It is claimed that his contributions led to the defeat of the U-boat campaign which made planning for the Allies to invade Europe possible.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- James Williams lived in Cwmsychbant and got to know Elizabeth at school.
- James Williams was a staunch member of the Congregational Chapel, attending services every Sunday in Brynteg, two miles from his home.
- At the time of the 1911 census, James and Elizabeth Williams, together with their three sons, were living at Brynawel.
- The other two sons, John and Evan James, are both are listed as speaking only Welsh; they are both at school.
- He had been a fifth Wrangler in the Mathematical Tripos at Cambridge, and it was through him that Williams became attracted to mathematics and physics.
- became an undiluted pleasure under Lewis's influence and inspiration, ensuring that Evan James's interest in physics and mathematics would flourish.
- For Evan James, this was a sheer joy.
- Through his teaching, Jones gave Evan James the thrill of interpreting and understanding experimental results, a practice that remained close to his heart throughout his academic career.
- Williams was not the only outstanding mathematician at the school for Evan Tom Davies was also a pupil and was one year younger that Williams.
- On one occasion, Evan Davies was rebuked by the science teacher because his homework notes on practical work included meaningless diagrams.
- This was as great a surprise to Evan Davies as it was to his teacher, but it soon became clear that Evan James had managed to get hold of his homework book after Evan Davies had finished the exercises, and had changed the diagrams.
- This instinct for leg-pulling stayed with Evan Davies for the rest of his life.
- In 1918 Williams sat the Central Welsh Board School Certificate Examinations.
- He only achieved a bare pass in Latin, however, and Evan Davies claimed this was quite deliberate since Williams believed that only swots got high Latin marks.
- The College was due to become part of the University of Wales so Williams knew that he would be able to register as a University of College student and he did so in October 1920.
- Evans gave much time to the design and equipping of the laboratories which were opened in 1922.
- E J Evans quickly saw that he had an exceptionally talented student in Williams, and encouraged him to specialise in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry.
- E J Evans was elected the first president while Williams was elected the first secretary.
- Meticulous minutes were kept by secretary Williams, who delivered a lecture after Christmas on the atomic nature of electricity.
- Williams graduated in 1923 with First Class Honours in Physics.
- Williams remained at University College Swansea where he studied for his M.Sc. advised by E J Evans.
- Both were communicated by E J Evans and were published in The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science.
- He submitted his thesis to the University of Manchester on 11 November 1926 and was awarded his Ph.D. Even before submitting the thesis, Williams had three papers published in 1926, two of which were joint papers written with John Mitchell Nuttall (1890-1958).
- The two Williams-Nuttall papers essentially formed two chapters in William's Ph.D. thesis.
- Williams then was awarded an 1851 Exhibition Scholarship and went to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, as a Senior Research Student working at the Cavendish Laboratories.
- Having achieved a second Ph.D., this time from the University of Cambridge in 1929, and a D.Sc. from the University of Wales in 1930, Williams was appointed as an Assistant Lecturer at the University of Manchester.
- In 1930 Williams became engaged to a Welsh girl and they intended to marry later that year.
- In Copenhagen, Williams became friendly with Eli Winther.
- But it became gradually obvious that Williams saw the relationship differently to Winther.
- She lived in north Wales, and it appears that their courtship began while Williams was at Manchester.
- In her letters to Williams, she frequently described how she enjoyed their meetings and reading his letters, and often asked him to visit her despite concern for his safety while driving (a well-founded concern in light of comments by others about his behaviour behind the steering wheel).
- In 1938 Williams was appointed to the Chair of Physics at the University College Aberystwyth, part of the University of Wales.
- Skilful though he was as an experimenter, Williams' distinction lay perhaps even more in his rare gift of analysing in detail the mechanisms of complicated physical processes, using a minimum of mathematical analysis and a maximum of physical understanding.
- Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett (1897-1974) had been appointed as a scientific officer at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough at the start of the war and he requested Williams to join him at the end of 1939.
- Williams now worked on the threat posed by German submarines.
- Blackett was appointed head of Operational Research and Williams joined him there.
- By 1942, Williams was head of the Operational Research Section of Coastal Command.
- An English translation Evan James Williams: Atomic Physicist was published in 2020.
Born 8 June 1903, Cwmsychbant, Ceredigion, Wales. Died 29 September 1945, Brynawel, Cwmsychbant, Carmarthenshire, Wales.
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Thank you to the contributors under CC BY-SA 4.0!
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive