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Frederick Alexander Lindemann

(1886—1957) scientist and politician


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(1886–1957)

German-born British physicist, who became scientific adviser to Winston Churchill and was created a viscount in 1956.

The son of a wealthy Alsatian businessman, he was educated at schools in Scotland and Germany and the University of Berlin, where he gained his PhD in 1910. As a man of private means, Lindemann was under no pressure to find work and it was not until World War I, when he joined the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, that he became fully employed. After the war Lindemann was appointed director of the Clarendon Laboratory and professor of experimental philosophy at Oxford, posts he held until his retirement in 1956. When Lindemann moved to Oxford, the Clarendon had an academic staff of two, no mains electricity, and a single technician. Under his direction it became one of the leading research centres in Britain and, in the field of low temperature physics, it led the world. Known universally as ‘the Prof,’ Lindemann made a limited contribution to physics; he invented an electrometer that bears his name and derived a formula relating the melting point of a crystal to the amplitude of its atoms' vibrations. He did, however, have many interests outside science. In 1921 he met Churchill, with whom he formed a lifelong friendship. He became Churchill's scientific adviser and exerted a considerable influence over him. Some, C. P. Snow in particular, have argued that this influence was far from benign. He has been charged with obstructing the development of radar and supporting the discredited policy of saturation bombing during World War II.

Lindemann's influence declined during the years of the Attlee government (1945–51), but with the return of Churchill in 1951, Lindemann was summoned to serve as paymaster-general with a place in the cabinet. Although, initially, Lindemann had been sceptical about the feasibility of the atomic bomb, by the 1950s he appreciated the need to establish a nuclear industry and it was largely due to him that the Atomic Energy Authority was set up in 1954.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — British History.


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