Series, George William (physicist)

Reference: MS 4623 Date: 1944-1995Extent: 12 boxes
George William Series (22 Feb 1920–2 Jan 1995) was a British physicist, known for his work on the optical spectroscopy of hydrogen atoms.

Born in Berkshire and brought up in a cottage in the park of Stratfield Saye House, at the age of ten Series won a scholarship to Queen Mary’s Grammar School in Basingstoke, where he became interested in science. Series would even go as far as to set up his own laboratory by his home, experimenting with chemicals he had taken from school. After his family relocated, he transferred to Reading School and was later awarded an open scholarship to St. John’s College, Oxford in 1938.

In 1940 his studies were interrupted due to the Second World War. A conscientious objector, Series spent two years of this period working in London as a part of air raid relief.

He later served with the Friend’s Ambulance Unit in Egypt, Italy and the former Yugoslavia, where he set up a pathology laboratory, continuing to work there until 1946. Upon his return to Oxford, Series took his full finals, graduating with first-class honours in 1947.  Remaining at Oxford, he went on to take his MA and Doctorate in Philosophy in 1950, where he then began his research into the structure of the hydrogen atom under the tutelage of Heinrich G. Kuhn. Series went on to become a university lecturer in Physics in 1951, a fellow of St Edmund Hall in 1954, and published his first book, The Spectrum of Atomic Hydrogen, in 1957.

At this time his research led him to build upon Alfred Kastler’s group discovery of combining radio-frequency and optical techniques to study atom splitting. Series’ investigation led to a number of seminal papers published on the topic, bringing him international recognition. He eventually went on to accept a chair at the University of Reading in 1968, holding the post of Professor of Physics until 1982.

Series had strong links to both India and New Zealand, and the arrival of physicist John Newton Dodd to Oxford in 1959 began a long relationship between the Clarendon and University of Otago physics departments, with Series attending Otago as a William Evans visiting professor in 1972. Series visited the Indian Academy of Sciences in a similar fashion in 1982 after being awarded a Raman Visiting Professorship, partly in thanks to his regard for the work of S. Pancharatnam.

Throughout the 1970s and ’80s Series was elected fellow of several societies, including the Royal Society (1971), the Royal Astronomical Society (1972), the American Physical Society (1975), the Optical Society of America (1975), and was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences in 1984. During this time he also edited two journals, the European Journal of Physics (1980–85) and the Journal of Physics B (1975–80). In 1982 he received the William F. Meggers award and the medal of the Optical Society of America. Series edited a second book, The Spectrum of Atomic Hydrogen: Advances in 1988.

Series died in 1995, with his ashes eventually interred at the Stratfield Saye village church. He was described in his obituary as ‘one of the outstanding atomic spectroscopists of his generation’.

The collection includes biographical and personal material, including several autobiographical notes and narratives, some quite lengthy, on his career and scientific interests from 1963 to 1994. The surviving research papers represent Series’ own selection of topics of special interest to him: some, such as ‘Spontaneous emission of light’ cover a long time-span (1964–1977), while others such as ‘Optogalvanic spectroscopy’ was his last research at Reading (1981–1983).

There is a substantial record of Series’ achievement as a popular and prolific lecturer to research groups or conferences, over an extended period (1959–1988). Publications and editorial papers form a partial record of Series’ considerable editorial commitments, though it does include material on the founding of the European Journal of Physics.

Includes several of his visits under the Royal Society Exchange Programme, and also documents the major world tour 1982–1983 following his retirement from Reading. The surviving correspondence dates in large part but not exclusively from Series’ retirement years. Many of the letters are therefore incoming only, but Series frequently jotted down notes of his replies, or of calculations and ideas arising from the correspondence.

Information about George William Series taken from the following sources:

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