Garry Cuninghame obituary

Publié le par The Guardian - Alastair, Christopher and Keith Cuninghame

The Guardianpublished 21/03/2012 at 17:27 GMT by Alastair, Christopher and Keith Cuninghame

Our father, Garry Cuninghame, who has died aged 91, was a nuclear chemist. For almost 50 years, he was based at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment near Harwell, Oxfordshire, where he worked on fundamental and applied nuclear research. He was a man of wide-ranging interests and endless curiosity.

Garry Cuninghame
Born in Devon to British parents who had met on the Canadian prairies (his father was a Mountie), he left school in 1938 to work as an apprentice aircraft designer. Foreseeing the inevitable, he joined the army before the second world war was declared. By August 1946 he was a major, controlling more than 30,000 displaced persons of some 26 nationalities for the Control Commission for Germany. There, he met Dorothy, whom he married in 1948.

After demob, he gained a first-class chemistry degree at Imperial College London, turning down lucrative private sector offers to work at Harwell for £444 a year from September 1949. The theme of all his work was fundamental radiochemistry. He was especially interested in nuclear fission – the splitting of an atomic nucleus and what happens to its resulting particles – with his early work being on plutonium separation and purification. No lover of management structures, he remained "frontline", describing 1954 as a black year because Harwell was placed under the UK Atomic Energy Authority, creating a "stifling bureaucracy".

His later Harwell years were largely spent on the variable energy cyclotron, a particle accelerator. He led development work on the treatment of cancer by high energy neutron irradiation, and on the manufacture of isotopes for the diagnosis and treatment of patients in hospitals. The latter delivered many benefits, such as the use of an iodine isotope in treating thyroid problems Among his publications were a book, Introduction to the Atomic Nucleus (1964), and an Encyclopaedia Britannica article on nuclear fission (1974). He retired in 1985.

His many interests included music (he took up the cello in his 40s and played in local quartets), walking (he was a regular 25 miles-a-day man until his knees gave out; he regarded organised ramblers' groups as "dawdlers"), photography (he leaves a huge collection of slides, happily well-organised), literature (he was on his fourth complete reading of Dickens), plus enthusiasms such as making bread and ice-cream. He learned bookbinding and wrote, printed and bound several books, including Confessions of a Chemist.

He is survived by Dorothy, us and three grandchildren.

Publié dans Avis de décès

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