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Jim Jardine OBE (1923-2023)

An immensely influential figure in physics education for many decades and a former Chair of IOP Scotland.


A headshot of physics teacher Jim Jardine in a suit and tie

James Turnbull Jardine was born in Hawick in the Scottish Borders on 21 March 1923.

On leaving school during the second world war he became a radio operator in the RAF. Following the war, he obtained an honours degree in physics at the University of Edinburgh before studying at Moray House College of Education to become a physics teacher. As a man of faith throughout his life, he then also studied for, and qualified as, a teacher of religious education.

Following six years teaching at George Heriot’s School, he took up the post of head of physics at George Watson’s College in 1958, one he held until 1973. While at the college he was responsible for the updating and refurbishment of the laboratories and other work spaces in the physics department to better enable hands-on pupil practical work – designs that have stood the test of time and remain today.

During the 1960s Jim was at the centre of the rapid mathematics and science curriculum changes that took place in Western countries as they reacted to the surprise launch of Sputnik by the USSR. This included the introduction of the ‘Alternative’ physics syllabi for Ordinary grade and Higher grade physics in Scotland, which rapidly became the only syllabi in Scotland, plus the introduction of the Certificate of Sixth Year Studies (CSYS) and the Nuffield O-level course in England.

In the Nuffield project he led work on the topic of mechanics and presented some of the Esso-sponsored films produced to demonstrate some of the innovative new practical work to teachers, including the use of the three-wheeled ‘tartan’ trolleys, ticker timers and tickertape.

To support the new courses, between 1964-1967 he authored the iconic Physics is Fun books before going on to write Nat Phil 3, 4 and 5, and Nat Phil ‘O’, which featured on its cover a photograph of the Forth Bridge taken from his home in South Queensferry, with a panoramic view across the Forth estuary and its bridges.

In 1973, Jim moved to become a lecturer in physics education at Moray House College of Education. In this role he influenced a significant part of a generation of physics teachers in Scotland. When the Higher physics syllabus was updated in 1983, he revised his Nat Phil 5 book to produce his Higher Physics textbook – this time with a photograph of the Forth Road Bridge on its cover.

By the 1980s the Ordinary grade courses were to be replaced by Standard grade and Jim chaired the joint working party responsible for writing the syllabus and course arrangements.

Under Jim’s stewardship this took a new approach; embedding the teaching of physics in its applications with topics such as telecommunications, health physics, space physics, and leisure physics, the latter giving Jim the opportunity to share his enthusiasm for photography. True to form, Jim authored the Physics Through Applications textbook for the new course.

Jim also contributed to the work of many committees, including chairing both the Institute of Physics (IOP) and Association for Science Education committees in Scotland, and was on the editorial board of the IOP’s Physics Education journal for over a decade. Jim was always looking to improve the teaching of physics and science and supporting the development of teachers.

Jim’s contributions to physics education were recognised through several awards including the IOP’s Bragg Medal in 1987, an OBE for services to physics education in 1988, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh in 1999.

Jim retired from Moray House in 1989 but continued to be active long after his formal retirement. He continued to give lectures and talks, in particular his ‘Physics of Toys’ demonstration lecture allowing him to share his playful enjoyment of physics with audiences in many countries around the world.

He also remained a stalwart of the IOP Stirling Physics Teachers’ Meeting, continuing as a member of its organising committee well into the 21st century. For many years delegates at the meeting could be sure to see Jim at the front of the Logie Lecture Theatre in Stirling with his video camera recording the proceedings.

Jim passed away at home in South Queensferry on 18 January 2023, just a few weeks short of his 100th birthday.

Written by Stuart Farmer, with thanks to Wendy McCaig, Jim’s niece.