Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt

(1892—1973) Scottish physicist

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British engineer, who was responsible for the development of radar. He was knighted in 1942.

Watson-Watt was educated at the University College of Dundee. He first worked at the Meteorological Office in London on the radiolocation of thunderstorms. After the end of World War I Watson-Watt worked for the DSIR and the National Physical Laboratory on research into the reception and transmission of radio waves. In 1935, however, he was approached by the Air Ministry and asked to advise on the practicality of developing any form of death ray. Replying that any such ray would require so much power that it would be impractical, Watson-Watt added that disturbances had been noticed in radio reception when aircraft flew by, and he wondered if this could be used to warn of the presence of enemy aircraft. Watson-Watt was invited to set up a research station for the Air Ministry at Bawdsey in Suffolk, where he and his team were able to develop airborne radar, well before the outbreak of World War II in 1939. They were also able to train RAF pilots in its use, which gave them an invaluable advantage over the much larger Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain.

Watson-Watt was later appointed scientific adviser on telecommunications to the Air Ministry, a post he retained until his retirement in 1952. For his work on radar he was awarded an ex gratia payment of £50,000.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics — History.

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