Professor Marshall Stoneham: theoretical physicist and President of the Institute of Physics

Marshall Stoneham

Professor Marshall Stoneham FRS has tragically died at the age of 70 after a short illness. Though nominally retired from UCL he remained highly active, a leader in his field and since October 2010 President of the Institute of Physics. He will be remembered for an enormously diverse range of contributions to theoretical materials physics, including the theory of quantum diffusion of hydrogen in metals, the general theory of point defects (especially colour centres) and radiation effects in solids, and the theory of resonance and absorption lineshapes. His books, most notably the definitive Theory of Defects in Solids, were highly influential and his status in the field was attested by the wide network of longstanding collaborators he maintained and by a continuing flow of invitations to give keynote talks at international meetings.

Born in 1940 in Barrow-in-Furness, he was educated at Barrow Grammar School for Boys and always spoke with pride of the three Fellows of the Royal Society whom it produced - a statistic he attributed to its excellent physics teaching. He was an undergraduate at Bristol University and remained there for a PhD with Maurice Pryce. In 1964 he joined the Theoretical Physics Division at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, Harwell, where he was to spend more than thirty years, becoming successively Head of the Solid-State and Quantum Physics Group in the Theoretical Physics Division, Head of the Materials Science and Metallurgy Division, and Chief Scientist of the Atomic Energy Authority. He loved the intellectual environment of Harwell in its prime, and in particular relished the chance to combine fundamental work with a wide range of applied projects where his penetrating insights and encyclopedic knowledge of materials physics could quickly yield a solution or point the way forward. He was particularly proud of the quality of the research group he assembled around him, and many of his coworkers went on to important positions within the Authority or outside.

With the environment at Harwell becoming less conducive to fundamental research in the 1990s, he accepted an invitation from the then Provost, Sir Derek Roberts, to move to UCL in 1995 as the first Massey Professor of Physics and Director of the Centre for Materials Research. He also joined the newly established Condensed Matter and Materials Physics Group in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and along with the group's first Head, John Finney, set about building it up into a major international centre whose development later gave rise to the London Centre for Nanotechnology. He loved interacting with the wide range of materials-related work around UCL and personally developed projects in areas as diverse as minimally invasive dentistry, odour recognition, diamond film growth and quantum information science, where his new ideas led to a substantial and ongoing research programme.

Alongside his dedication to Harwell and UCL he pursued outside interests at an exceptionally high level. He was a keen amateur horn player and musicologist, playing in a longstanding wind octet and even at one point performing the phenomenally difficult solo part of the Strauss Horn Concerto in concert. His prizewinning Wind Ensemble Sourcebook was the fruit of many years' research in libraries around the world, many of them visited alongside trips to conferences and collaborators. With his wife, the physicist Doreen Stoneham, he founded Oxford Authentication, a small company which has been highly successful in the authentication of fine-art ceramics by thermo-luminescence dating.

He received numerous honours, including Fellowships of the Institute of Physics, the American Physical Society and (in 1989) the Royal Society, whose Zeneca prize lecture he gave in 1995. He served on the Royal Society's Council in 1994-6, and was Senior Treasurer of the Royal Society Club in 2005-6. He was awarded the Guthrie Medal and Prize of the Institute of Physics in 2006, and before becoming the Institute's President had also served it as Vice-President for Publishing and for two terms as editor of one of its most important journals, Journal of Physics C: Solid State Physics (later Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter). He was also an Honorary Fellow of UCL.

He will be much missed as an outstanding mentor, an encyclopedic source of scientific knowledge, a wonderful collaborator whose incisive questioning rapidly got to the bottom of whether any idea was a good one, and a loyal friend to many in the scientific community. Professor Richard Catlow, a longstanding colleague and Dean of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at UCL, said: "Marshall Stoneham was one of the outstanding physicists of his generation, who made a huge contribution to condensed matter physics. He will be greatly missed by the UK and indeed the international physics community".

Arthur Marshall Stoneham: born 18 May 1940, died 18 February 2011.

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