100 Candles for UQ Physics


Speaker: Professor John Mainstone (University of Queensland)
Date: 25th March 2011

100 years ago the Cavendish Laboratory in the University of Cambridge played a crucial role in the birth of UQ Physics. Today’s physics community in Brisbane has good cause to celebrate the centenary of UQ Physics on 25 March 2011, in the same week, as it happens, that the University of Cambridge is busy staging its impressive Cambridge Science Festival. As would be expected, the (new) Cavendish Laboratory is making a significant contribution to that event. Although by no means a highlight of their activities, “Meet the Physicist” is certainly on the list – but ironically that was the very thing that didn’t (more importantly, couldn’t) happen in Queensland during the 40 years of wandering in the proverbial wilderness that preceded the foundation of  The University of Queensland.  The Universities of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide had been established in colonial times.  Queensland had to await a burst of timely political opportunism, which culminated in the recently arrived State Governor publicly giving the royal assent to the University of Queensland Bill, and in consequence immediately consigning his own household to the ranks of the homeless.  If UQ Physics – in its centenary year – were now to declare for itself a patron saint, it would surely have to be Sir William MacGregor, Governor of Queensland and the First Chancellor of UQ.  In hindsight, the intriguing saga of the gestation and infancy of UQ could well be claimed to have eclipsed that of the birth of the ancient University of Cambridge back in the year 1209.

Professor John Mainstone, Honorary Professor in the UQ School of Mathematica & Physics, will present a commemorative discourse “100 Candles for UQ Physics” on Friday 25 March, in celebration of the centenary of the acceptance of an appointment by Mr Thomas Parnell M.A. as the University’s first Lecturer in Physics. The many improbable twists and turns along a very rough path that had to be traversed before physics became – literally at the last moment – a foundation discipline at this University, will be highlighted. Parnell later became the first Professor of Physics, in 1919, and in 1927 initiated the famous UQ Physics Pitch Drop Experiment, of which Professor Mainstone has been the long-time Custodian.