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Read, John, (1908-1993)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0120 PP/JRE
Held at: Wellcome Library
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Full title: Read, John, (1908-1993)
Date(s): c 1930-1994
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 25 boxes
Name of creator(s): Read | John | 1908-1993 | radiobiologist


Administrative/Biographical history:

John Read was born in Hendon, Middlesex on 31 March 1908. He left school at 16 to work as a clerk in the Derbyshire County Council Education Department. Studying in the evenings, he took the University of London external B.Sc. in Physics and Applied Mathematics in 1929 and then won a scholarship to Nottingham University College where he took a B.Sc. in Special Physics in 1931. Read then won a teaching fellowship at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and worked for his Ph.D. on the attenuation coefficients of scattered radiation from a range of elements. He returned to the UK in 1934, joining the Radium Beam Research Unit as Assistant Physicist working with L.H. Gray at Mount Vernon Hospital in London. Gray and Read were awarded a grant from the British Empire Cancer Campaign to build a neutron generator for study of the biological action of neutrons. In the words of John Haggith's obituary of Read in Scope vol 3 (1994), 'The next five years were remarkable. It took them two years of toil and brilliant improvisation to build the neutron generator and then just three years to put neutron and alpha dosimetry on a sound footing and obtain the RBEs [Relative Biological Effectiveness] for neutrons, alpha particles, X- and gamma-rays'.

In 1939 Read moved to the British Institute of Radiology. In 1941 he was seconded to British Thomson-Houston Co. in Rugby for war work, after which in 1943 he took up the post of Hospital Physicist at the London Hospital. In the same year he played a leading role in the establishment of the Hospital Physicists Association. In 1946 he was made Head of the British Empire Cancer Campaign's Biophysics Research Group at the Mount Vernon Hospital and the Radium Institute, from 1948 serving as Combined Head of the Research Group and Physics Department. In 1950 the British Empire Cancer Campaign established a laboratory for research into radiation biology in Christchurch, New Zealand (moving to Dunedin in 1952). Read was appointed Director of the Radiation Biology Group. He remained in New Zealand for the rest of his life, making occasional return visits to Britain. As head of the Radiation Biology Group, with limited resources, Read pursued research into how ionising radiations destroy tumours and how this action could be influenced by other factors. He retired in 1974. Read was awarded the Royal Society of Edinburgh's Anderson-Berry Gold Medal in 1953 and gave the Douglas Lea Memorial Lecture in 1957. He died in Dunedin on 10 October 1993.


Scope and content/abstract:

The material in this collection is presented in the order given in the list of contents. It covers the period from the late 1920s to 1994. The bulk of the material dates from the 1950s to the 1970s and the collection is dominated by Research material. Section A, Biographical, is slight. It includes two obituaries, incomplete lists of publications, and a little material relating to Read's early career in New Zealand. There are also some undergraduate notes from Derby Technical College and University College Nottingham from the late 1920s to 1931. Section B, Research, is by far the largest component of the collection. It is also the most comprehensive, covering Read's entire research career from his postgraduate study at Caltech, work with L.H. Gray at the Mount Vernon Hospital in London and research while Hospital Physicist at the London Hospital, to his move to New Zealand in 1950 and ongoing work up to retirement in 1974. Following Read's own arrangement, the section is divided into a number of sequences. In addition to postgraduate notes from the early 1930s, there is a run of notebooks for the period 1936-1974. The notebook entries are detailed, with dates and often times of experiments, descriptions of techniques and results.

The largest component of the section is Read's chronological sequence of folders identified by year and (generally) also by topic. The contents of the folders may include manuscript data, drafts of publications, correspondence on work in progress, supply of chemicals, figures, calculations and graphs. The remainder of the section comprises Read's alphabetical sequence of folders, chiefly extensive notes on the literature; a general series of folders arranged by research topic - mostly undated research notes and data; documentation of research on E. Coli carried out with C. Cowell, 1965-1967; and a little miscellaneous material. Section C, Publications, includes documentation relating to Read's book Radiation Biology of Vicia Faba in relation to the General Problem (Oxford, 1959), a number of miscellaneous drafts and a set of his offprints 1934-1976. Section D, Lectures, is not extensive. The material, drafts and notes relating to lectures delivered, is from the 1960s. It includes 'The physics of radiotherapy and radiation biology in the early 1930s', Read's John Strong Memorial Lecture of 1961 and a sequence of numbered lectures, probably relating to a course of seminars in radiobiology delivered in 1962. Few of the other drafts have any indication of occasion upon which they were delivered or of intended audience. Section E, Societies and organisations, is also slight. There is material relating to nine, mostly New Zealand, organisations. They include the British Empire Cancer Campaign Society, with material chiefly relating to terms of employment; the New Zealand Department of Health Dominion X-ray and Radium Laboratory, with papers and correspondence on radiological equipment, supply of radioactive substances, monitoring of radioactivity etc; and the New Zealand Medical Physicists Association, of which Read was chairman in the early 1970s.

Section F, Correspondence, presents an alphabetical sequence of correspondence with individuals and companies, covering a wide range of topics, including laboratory equipment and chemicals, progress of research, visits, the launch of new journals, as well as social and personal news. There are a few extended sequences. Correspondence of particular note is that with L.H. Gray, G.E. Roth and H.C. Sutton, and companies including George W Wilton and Co Ltd, Kempthorne Prosser and Co. and W and R Smallbone Ltd. The correspondence postdates Read's relocation to New Zealand and continues up to retirement in 1974. There is also an index of correspondents.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Arranged in sections as follows: BIOGRAPHICAL, 1920s-1994; RESEARCH, 1930s-1970s; PUBLICATIONS, 1930s-1976; LECTURES, 1960s, n.d; SOCIETIES AND ORGANISATIONS, 1951-1976; CORRESPONDENCE, 1949-1974.

Conditions governing access:

The papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material, after the completion of a Reader's Undertaking.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Photocopies/photographs/microfilm are supplied for private research only at the Archivist's discretion. Please note that material may be unsuitable for copying on conservation grounds, and that photographs cannot be photocopied in any circumstances. Readers are restricted to 100 photocopies in twelve months. Researchers who wish to publish material must seek copyright permission from the copyright owner.

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

The papers were transferred from the British Institute of Radiology to the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists in 2000.

Immediate source of acquisition:

The catalogued archive was transferred to the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine in 2004 (acc.1249).

Allied Materials

Related material:

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Copied from the Wellcome Library catalogue by Sarah Drewery.

Rules or conventions:
In compliance with ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description - 2nd Edition (1999); UNESCO Thesaurus, December 2001; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Jan 2009

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