Honorary fellows: Sir John Mason

In 2007 Sir John Mason was elected to Honorary Fellowship of the Institute of Physics for his outstanding contributions to meteorology.

After graduating in physics in 1948, Sir John Mason was appointed lecturer in the postgraduate department of meteorology at Imperial College where he initiated experimental and theoretical research on fundamental processes involved in the formation of clouds, rain, snow, hail and the electrification of thunderstorms. Having established a world-leading group and written the first monograph on “The Physics of Clouds”, he was appointed the world’s first professor of cloud physics, elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and received the Charles Chree Medal of the Institute of Physics in 1965.

A major change in Mason’s career occurred at this stage when he was appointed Director-General of the Meteorological Office.  He transferred his cloud physics group to form a new branch of the Meteorological Office and continued research, especially on charge generation in thunderstorms, for which he received the Rumford medal and the Bakerian Lectureship of the Royal Society.

He concentrated, however, on modernising and equipping the Meteorological Office to become a leading world centre for global weather and climate prediction and research using the most advanced mathematical models and the most powerful computers. In 1965 he replaced traditional empirical forecast by objective numerical techniques, at first restricted to Western Europe and the North Atlantic, but gradually extended to cover the whole globe by 1983. For this he was appointed Companion of the Bath in 1973 and knighted in 1979. He received the Glazebrook Medal of the Institute of Physics (1972), The Symons Gold Medal of the Royal Meteorological Society (1975) and the Royal Medal of the Royal Society in 1990.

Sir John was elected president of the Institute of Physics (1976-8), the Royal Meteorological Society (1976-8), the British Association for Advancement of Science (1983-4) and vice president and treasurer of the Royal Society (1976-86).

Following his retirement from the Meteorological Office Sir John served UMIST at both president and chancellor from 1986-96 and has received honorary doctorates from 12 universities.