Cavendish Laboratory

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The Cavendish Laboratory is the Department of Physics at Cambridge University, and is part of the university's School of Physical Sciences. It was opened in 1874 as a teaching laboratory.

The Department is named after William Cavendish, 7th Duke of Devonshire, who was Chancellor of the University and donated money for the construction of the laboratory.[1] Professor James Clerk Maxwell, the developer of electromagnetic theory, was a founder of the lab and became the first Cavendish Professor of Physics.[2]

As of 2006, 29 Cavendish researchers have won Nobel Prizes.[3]


About the department

The Cavendish Laboratory was initially located on the New Museums Site, Free School Lane, in the centre of Cambridge. After perennial space problems, it moved to its present site in West Cambridge in the early 1970s. Physical Chemistry (originally the department of Colloid Science under Eric Rideal) left the Cavendish site earlier, subsequently locating as the Department of Physical Chemistry (under RG Norrish) in the then new chemistry building with the Department of Chemistry (under Lord Todd) in Lensfield Road: both chemistry departments merged in the 1980s.

The current head of the Cavendish is Peter Littlewood. The Cavendish Professorship of Physics is currently held by Sir Richard Friend.

Nuclear physics

In World War II the laboratory carried out research for the MAUD Committee, part of the British Tube Alloys project of research into the Atomic Bomb. Researchers included Nicholas Kemmer, Allan Nunn May, Anthony French, Samuel Curran and the French scientists including Lew Kowarski and Hans von Halban. Several transferred to Canada in 1943; the Montreal Laboratory and some later to the Chalk River Laboratories.

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