Profile of Professor Mansel Davies

Born in Aberdare, South Wales, he entered The University College of Wales, Aberystwyth in 1930 where he took his initial and masters degrees in Chemistry.

His PhD work was with Rideal at Cambridge where he made some of the first studies of the infra-red vibrational spectra of small molecules. He became a schoolteacher in Bethesda, North Wales in 1940 then joined Astbury's laboratory at Leeds in 1942 where he used X-rays to study protein structure and obtained some of the first diffraction data for DNA. The role of hydrogen-bonding in such molecules and in simpler structures (e.g. the carboxylic acids) led to a major article in the Annual Report of The Chemical Society, which gave him an international reputation.

After the war he became a lecturer in Chemistry at Aberystwyth where he established active research groups studying hydrogen-bonding in organic solids and the vibrational spectra of small molecules. In the early 1950's he initiated researches in dielectric spectroscopy. The spectra, obtained in the range from audio to microwave frequencies, gave information on dipole moments and molecular reorientational motions in the liquid and solid states - interdisciplinary research involving Chemistry, Physics and Electrical Engineering. Seeing the need for dielectric measurements at far-IR frequencies, where the effects of inertia and induced dipole moments on the spectra are important, he worked in the 1960's with the interferometry group of Gebbie and Chamberlain at The National Physical Laboratory and subsequently established far-IR techniques at Aberystwyth. The success of his researches led to visits to Australia and Japan and invited lectures in Europe and the USA. He wrote several books, including The Physical Principles of Gas Liquification (1949), Infrared Spectroscopy and Molecular Structure (1963), Some Electronic and Optical Aspects of Molecular Behaviour (1965) and, with Hill, Vaughan and Price, Dielectric Properties and Molecular Processes (1969). In the 1970's he edited the series Dielectric and Related Molecular Processes for The Chemical Society. He became a Professor in 1968 and was awarded honorary degrees of the universities of Nancy and Wroclaw.

In the late 1960's, with A.H. Price and the writer, he established the Dielectric Discussion Group to foster, promote and encourage research in dielectric spectroscopy, with an Annual Meeting normally attended by speakers from the UK, Continental Europe and the USA. In time this became The Dielectrics Society which continued until 2001 when it was incorporated into The Institute of Physics.

He retired in 1978 to Criccieth, North Wales where he pursued his interests in classical music, literature, history of science, especially that of China (inspired by his friend Joseph Needham), and his passion for the collection of rare books. In retirement he published A Scientist Looks at Buddhism and The History of The Faraday Society. He died on 11 January 1995 at Criccieth and is remembered as an outstanding physical chemist, polymath and generous human being. His scientific vision and enthusiasm were a source of inspiration for his students and colleagues alike and with his exceptional knowledge and personality he bridged the 'two cultures' of C.P. Snow with ease.

The Group wish to thank Professor Graham Williams, University of Wales Swansea, for contributing this article (January 2002).

Further information
Interested readers are also directed to the article on page 63 of Physics World April 1995, also written by Professor Williams.