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Professor Sir John Madsen (1879-1969) graduated from Sydney University with first class honours & University Medals in both Science & Engineering in 1900 & then 1901 when he read physics & mathematics establishing the practice of taking the double degree of BSc & BE & he himself embarking on a lifelong career of applying physics to the foundations of engineering.

In 1901 he was appointed Lecturer in physics & mathematics at the University of Adelaide under W H Bragg with whom he established a close association over many years & this soon led in 1902 to the opportunity to become the first Lecturer in Electrical Engineering at the University. In the latter part of 1902 during a period of leave of absence & at his own expense he proceeded on a tour through England & America to gain information on the most recent methods of instruction in Electrical Engineering adopted by the Universities & Higher technical Colleges & at the same time visiting as many as possible of the most important installations and manufacturing businesses. He found that the general type of course was much the same throughout consisting of groundwork in mathematics, physics & chemistry where courses were over three or four years with the specialisation in Electric Engineering taking place during the latter portion. A thesis dealing with some approved portion of work & written up during the vacations was also required from the student & on completion of the course the recognised practice for these men was to take up employment with a reputable manufacturing firm. Experience gained in this way was most essential as men are put through all the departments after which they stay in the one in which they intend to specialise dealing at that time with the further subdivision of Direct & Continuous current. The equipment for teaching in England was considered sufficient for teaching being of small size & less expensive whereas in America there was a tendency towards using large machines with large currents & high EMFs where the methods of handling are considerably different. In the case of smaller plant more responsibility can be taken by a student & this assists the student in gaining confidence in the handling of experiments. On completion of the degree the graduate was accepted by the IEE as sufficient qualification for their associateship & then it became most essential to obtain experience on the Continent, England or America before taking up a permanent position. From time to time openings in large manufacturing works in America, England & Germany became available for graduates.

Fishing at Palm Beach with a large jewfishCommencing in 1905 Sydney University was to appoint its first Lecturer in Electrical Engineering & JPVM applied wishing to get married & be employed back at Sydney University. WHB wrote a very favourable testimonial & concluded that he would be very sorry if it assists JPVM’s departure from Adelaide. The Chancellor of the University of Adelaide also expressed great regret at the possibility of JPVM leaving Adelaide & referred to his ability as an able & hard working man of unimpeachable character who had proved himself a successful teacher & Lecturer inspiring his students with his own enthusiasm. E. Kilman Scott from England however was given the appointment for four years & so in fact JPVM did remain in Adelaide for the next four years & in conjunction with his Electrical Engineering duties embarked on a period of fundamental research in physics with WHB.

WHB had greatly improved his skills in giving public lectures & science demonstrations during his time in Adelaide but at the relatively old age of 42 was inspired by Rutherford’s work to give a Presidential address to the AAAS meeting to be held in Dunedin in 1904 which set out his research ideas on the ionization of gases. The discovery of X-rays by Rontgen in 1895, radium in 1898 by the Curies & the electron by J J Thomson in 1897 had created fertile ground for research work in physics which WHB then started to devise experiments & at the same time develop theoretical ideas to support his results. In 1905 JPVM joined with WHB in his experiments & then later publishing his own experiments up to 1909, & in particular a paper on the Scattering of Beta Rays of Radium published in England in the Phil Mag. One of the results of great significance from this experiment with thin foils of gold, aluminium, silver & paper was that for the thinnest of foils the beta particles passing through were only scattered once , the implication to Rutherford of this was that within the atom there was a lot of empty space. Rutherford in 1911 published a very famous paper on the Scattering of Alpha & Beta particles & the Structure of the Atom the Rutherford Model as a mini solar system or nuclear atom in which he mentions JPVM’s results. JPVM also wrote to Nature on matters arising from his experiments which he considered to be of significance.

In 1909 WHB & family departed Adelaide for England & JPVM returned to Sydney University with his family & in an effort to keep JPVM abreast of research mainly in England & Germany, WHB wrote lengthy letters from Leeds also making arrangements for a new large & very expensive supply of Radium from Braunschweig funded to JPVM by a wealthy tobacco merchant. W H Bragg & J P V Madsen Collaboration & Correspondence. It is not known what further experiment JPVM was working on in Sydney with his new supply of Radium however the results were not as expected & when finished he passed the Radium on to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital for medical use. In 1912 W H B published a book “Studies in Radioactivity” in which he gives a full account of JPVM’s Beta Scattering apparatus with an Ionization chamber & also his results for Aluminium & Gold foils. In late 1912 WHB also invented his X-ray ionization diffraction spectrometer which also involved the electronic measurement of scattered wave material having passed through crystals which contributed significantly to his receipt, with son Lawrence W L Bragg, of the 1915 Nobel Prize in physics.

Rutherford’s letter to JPVM the day after Rutherford first made his public announcement of the nuclear theory of the atom.

eie-history/1900-1911.txt · Last modified: 2017/06/05 16:34 by superuser
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