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J P V Madsen Policies for emerging circumstances in Australian Engineering & Physics.(1900-1969.)

(Prepared by R. W. Madsen March 29, 2017)

JPVM had an inherent faculty for anticipating requirements in major undertakings. (W.Evans).


  • First in an Australian University to concurrently do Engineering & Science degrees.
  • Regarded highly FRS & MIT qualifications & was disparaging of U.S. “mail order” type degrees or universities that denied Darwin’s theory of evolution.


  • Courses of instruction should be designed to give confidence to students.
  • At exam time would test for principles over detail.
  • Do the simplest task first & do what is necessary & sufficient.
  • Use an analogy as a very useful technique for explanations.
  • Take a global view of scientific, industrial & political positions.
  • Given a set of facts what conclusion do you reach?.
  • Delegate work & monitor outcomes.
  • Arranged post graduate experience in U.K. , U.S.A. & Continent for his Elec. Eng. Graduates from Adelaide.
  • Provided university training opportunities to people of all backgrounds (city, country, technical college).


  • Everyone needs a hobby & beach fishing describes how he developed relationships & opportunities.
  • Did not write a lot but when he did he made it count.
  • If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well.
  • First impressions count. Clear expression & articulate presentation of ideas & information is important.
  • A shrewd judge of character in determining abilities & motives.
  • Considered & treated close professional associates & personal friends as “family”.
  • Enjoyed a drink of scotch amongst friends.
  • Enjoyed a well thought out philosophical discussion. E.g. in support of Darwin’s theory of evolution & gave high value to ideas that are practical.
  • Not afraid to challenge anyone, even of the highest qualification, if he thought they were wrong & he had reason to believe in a different outcome.
  • Follow the conventions of the day. (e.g. shook hands with Mussolini in 1928 near Rome).
  • Protected his reputation.
  • Protected his signature against forgery.
  • As an entrepreneur of science had the view to “fish every tide”.
  • Had the view to “Forgive & forget” misdemeanors.
  • Back able & like minded people to the hilt.
  • Everyone would say one thing, but he would say something different.
  • Did not like people who approached on the basis of “hail fellow well met”.
  • In a confrontational meeting watch carefully the expression on the face of the principal person present. (e.g. J. Curtin 1942).
  • Did not like classical music or Shakespeare, but did like a good detective story.
  • Did not meet Churchill (in 1941) as he did not think it necessary nor wanted to waste his time (Singapore?).


  • Bragg obtained E. R. approval to improve on his experiments that WHB & JPVM were to work on.
  • Always gave credit to his workers (or W. H.B) & did not take it for himself.
  • Research work should be independent (of commercial influence).
  • Research funding should go 50/50 to applied & basic research.
  • Would not suffer isolation of distance from active centres of science.
  • Promote investigations to the level of an international reputation. i.e. to be a world beater.
  • Publish results of investigations where it matters most.
  • Took a long term view of new opportunities.
  • Considered the historical development leading up to the emergence of any new circumstance.
  • Radio research work should be based on the triad of Universities, industry & government.
  • Refused to accept that the diminished financial circumstances of the Depression years would prevent a worthwhile research programme in radio. Used his imagination to build apparatus from scrap collected from factories on Parramatta Road.
  • Cultivated common ideas, beliefs & policies with CSIR CEO David Rivett & also George Julius.
  • Policy on scientific theory development.
  • Ceased consulting work in 1927 when he took up independent role as Chairman of RRB.
  • Policy to buy apparatus locally or overseas if time & cost less than making it in the lab.
  • Choice of the Ionosphere as his area of research (as opposed to atmospherics chosen by Laby) was fortuitous.
  • Policy to hire staff for NSL & RPL (Standards Lab & Radiophysics).
  • Develop a “brain child” & support it 100%.
  • Arranged a selection panel in the UK for RRB staff to come to Australia consisting of Rutherford, Tizard & Appleton.
  • Resigned as Chairman of the RAB (but remained a member) in July 1942 when there was a change in emphasis from research to production.
  • J P V M had a similarity of outlook with that of Henry Tizard.
  • Policy in 1951 on computer development as analogue vs. digital.
  • Policy to hold URSI 1952 in Sydney.
  • Policy on historical records (e.g. Rutherford letter, WHB letters, RRB & RAB histories).
  • Maintained in Elec Eng Dept a library of research publications.


  • Obtain prior consensus from related parties before making a new proposal.
  • A “quid pro quo” approach to negotiations.
  • A force to be reckoned with in matters which concerned him in committee meetings.
  • Policy to provide a separate scientific mission from Australia to India in 1948.


  • Outline of RDF feasibility in 1937 to Wimperis visiting Melbourne from U.K.
  • In wartime “most secret” environment operate on a “need to know” basis.
  • Policy given to W. Watt in 1940 of taking personal responsibility for secrecy of Australian RDF.
  • Aligned the needs of the fighting services with ideas of scientific staff & ensure production arrangements to supply the services were adequate.
  • Policy to remove D. F. Martyn & replace with Fred White.
  • Report to PM (J. Curtin) on radar Feb. 1942, & policy to deploy AW sets early in 1942.
  • Evidence for Darwin Royal Commission, including prior offer of support by RAB staff to install Darwin AW given to Chief of Air Staff.


  • Method of dealing with politicians avoided common embarrassments & pitfalls, but attracted their interest in his inimitable way. (PM Menzies, R. G.Casey & H. Holt Ministers in Charge of CSIR).


  • Perceived the need as early as 1903 for uniform physical standards to be adopted Australia wide.
  • During overseas trip in 1927-1928 to UK , USA & Europe gathered data on Standards Labs. (Subsequently also obtained a Canadian report on Standards in Japan).


  • Promoted the idea that a single professional body should represent the interests of qualified engineers in Australia & be recognized internationally.
  • Method of solving engineering problems with radar production was to escalate to personal level with top executive manager & resolve downwards.
  • CSIR proposals (Radio & Standards) in 1926 put to George Julius as engineer & Chairman of CSIR 1926-1946.


  • Policy to return to Sydney University (1904-1909) sa Lecturer in Elec. Eng., then to become Assistant Professor & Professor (1920).
  • Did whatever he could to promote the interests of Sydney University (eg, RRB,NSL,Aeronautical Engineering, RAB, Computer Conference 1951, URSI 1952, 1945/1956 Nuclear Engineering.)


  • New Zealand liaison over many years (from WHB in Dunedin in 1904) based on the Rutherford legacy.
  • JPVM judgement proved to be sound in arranging for Fred White to come across from Christchurch in 1941 to take charge of RPL/RAB.


  • Policy advice to the PM (.J.B Chifley) in December 1945 on nuclear physics.
  • Policy to fund Oliphants return to Australia (c 1950) to build an expensive cyclotron in Canberra.
  • Recommendation in 1956 for a Chair at an Australian University in Nuclear Engineering.
eie-history/jpvm-policies-for-engineering-and-physics.txt · Last modified: 2017/06/06 12:43 by superuser
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