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Mott, Sir Nevill Francis, 1905-1996 (Knight, physicist)



Sir Nevill Francis Mott (1905-1996), theoretical physicist. Nevill Francis Mott was born in Leeds on 30 September 1905. His father, Charles Francis Mott, who later became Director of Education of Liverpool, and his mother, Lillian Mary Mott née Reynolds, had been research students together under J.J. Thomson at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge. Mott was educated at Clifton College, Bristol and St John's College, Cambridge where he studied mathematics and theoretical physics. After three years research in applied mathematics he was appointed to a lectureship at Manchester University in 1929. He returned to Cambridge in 1930 as a Fellow and lecturer of Gonville and Caius College and in 1933 moved to Bristol University as Melville Wills Professor in Theoretical Physics. In 1948 he became Henry Overton Wills Professor of Physics and Director of the Henry Herbert Wills Physical Laboratory at Bristol. In 1954 he was appointed Cavendish Professor of Physics at Cambridge, a post he held until 1971. Additionally he served as Master of Gonville and Caius College, 1959-1966. Mott's early research at Cambridge established his reputation in the application of the new ideas of wave mechanics to collisions of atomic particles. On moving to Bristol he left this field for that of metals and alloys, establishing an international reputation there too within a few years. Later he turned to research on semiconductors and insulators, and to problems concerned with the formation of a latent image in a photographic emulsion. During Mott's twenty-one years at Bristol his group occupied a position of great eminence in theoretical physics. War-related work during the Second World War was concerned with the propagation of radio waves and the explosive fragmentation of shell and bomb cases. Mott's appointment as Cavendish Professor inevitably led to a greater involvement in administration both in the laboratory and the university and he assumed a number of positions nationally and internationally, both within the scientific community and more widely, for example, in the field of education. Nevertheless he remained active in research. The work for which he shared the 1977 Nobel Prize in the area of the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems was begun in the 1960s, while in his final years he was engaged in investigations of high temperature superconductivity. Not only was Mott one of the great theoreticians of the twentieth-century, his work in semiconductors and solid state physics had great practical implications, enabling improvements to be made to the performance of electronic circuits, including computer memories, and in making more efficient solar energy cells. In addition to a great number of scientific papers Mott was the author of a number of major books including The Theory of Atomic Collisions (with H.S.W. Massey, 1933), Electronic Processes in Non-Crystalline Materials (with E.A. Davis, 1971), Metal-Insulator Transitions (1974) and Conduction in Non-Crystalline Materials (1986). He also edited a volume of essays by scientists on religious belief Can scientists believe? (1991). In 1986 Mott published an autobiography A life in science. He was elected FRS in 1936 (Hughes Medal 1941, Royal Medal 1953, Copley Medal 1972; Bakerian Lecture 1953, Rutherford Memorial Lecture 1962, Humphry Davy Lecture 1988), and was awarded the 1977 Nobel Prize for Physics (with P.W. Anderson and J.H. Van Vleck) 'for their fundamental theoretical investigations of the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems'. He was knighted in 1962 and made a Companion of Honour in 1995. In 1930 he married Ruth Eleanor Horder with whom he had two daughters. He died on 8 August 1996.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:


Nevill Mott papers

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Mott
Scope and Contents

Comprised of a variety of materials including biographical materials, materials related to lectures and publications, records of Mott's involvement with various societies and organisations, material related to visits and conferences, documents related to Mott's interest in religion, and a small amount of correspondence.

Dates: 1929-1996
Conditions Governing Access: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (