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John  Randall

Sir John Randall FRS FRSE

Emeritus Professor of Biophysics


Born in 1905 in Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire, he read Physics at the University of Manchester (MSc 1926). From 1926, he worked on luminescence for the General Electric Company in Wembley, expertise which gained him a Royal Society fellowship in 1937 to research on phosphorescence in Birmingham, where he met Wilkins. In 1939, with Harry Boot he invented the cavity magnetron which, with help from his former colleagues at GEC, was developed into functioning radar and won him numerous scientific accolades and a knighthood.

He taught briefly at Cambridge (1943), became Professor of Natural Philosophy at St Andrews (1944) before moving to the Wheatstone Chair of Physics at King's College London (1946) and setting up the MRC Biophysics Unit with Wilkins (1947). As Director, his vision focused the Unit on the structure of complex biological materials, including DNA and other polymers. He also initiated studies on the physical basis of biological motility in protozoa, cilia and muscle. In 1970, he ‘retired’ to the University of Edinburgh where he set up a group to study proteins with neutron diffraction. He died in 1984.