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Stanley Hay Umphray Bowie, 1917 - 2008

Stanley Bowie, (Stan) was among the first of a new generation of young geologists who worked on the indigenous mineral resources of the UK during WW2. In Stanley’s case this involved evaluation of both coal and iron deposits in the UK. This was followed by his subsequent enlistment in the Meteorological Branch of the RAF where he undertook active military service as a Flying Officer, providing weather reconnaissance for both Bomber Command and Coastal Command. He subsequently made further contributions to both the economic and military defence aspects of national security for the UK, resulting from his choice of career.

In June 1946 he joined the Geological Survey of Great Britain as a Geologist in the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) which was responsible for advising the British Government on the availability of uranium supplies. The SIU had been established during the war in order to help with the location of sources of uranium in the British Empire and elsewhere that could contribute to the inventory required for the Manhattan Project. The SIU was subsequently renamed the Atomic Energy Division in 1951. He was promoted to Senior Geologist in 1947 with responsibility for all laboratory investigations where he prepared An Index of Radioactive Minerals, which was declassified as late as 1976 and was based in part on a classical collection of uranium-bearing ore minerals.

In 1949 he was responsible for the development of Geiger-Muller (G-M) counters in cooperation with the Atomic Energy Research Establishment (AERE) Harwell. Work commenced on the development of auto-radiographic techniques for thin and polished sections , which were subsequently applied to studies of uranium and thorium.

Over the next 20 years he continued collaboration with AERE on the development of portable GM counters for use in geological research and uranium reconnaissance. He made numerous overseas visits to uranium mines, geological surveys and geological conferences to foster international collaboration on state-of-the-art research on uranium geology and exploration.

In 1955 he was promoted to Chief Geologist, Atomic Energy Division (AED) and appointed member of the Raw Material Research and Development Committee of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA). He attended the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy Conference, Geneva, where he presented the research work undertaken by the AED.

At this point important research was initiated on the ore microscopy of opaque minerals in polished section using diamond indentation micro-hardness, combined with quantitative reflectance measurements. These provided essential tools to aid ore mineral identification, especially where mineral grains were too small to extract for x-ray determination. These techniques made a unique contribution to the systematic study of ores and opaque minerals until electron probe microanalysis became more generally available for routine examination of minerals and ores in polished thin section. This research was undertaken in collaboration with Dr Norman Henry, Department of Mineralogy and Petrology, University of Cambridge, in a popular series of international workshops sponsored by the International Mineralogical Association Commission on Ore Microscopy.

In 1968 he was appointed Assistant Director, Chief Geochemist within the reconstituted Institute of Geological Sciences (IGS), and was responsible for the organisation of a uranium reconnaissance programme covering Great Britain on behalf of UKAEA. In 1969 he was one of only four UK scientists appointed as Principal Investigator by NASA to undertake research on the ore mineralogy and uranium content of lunar samples from the Apollo 11 and 12 missions. Several combined laboratory techniques were employed, including quantitative optical microscopy in reflected light, quantitative electron probe microanalysis, and fission track analysis for the identification of uranium. This demonstrated the high Ti content located in abundant ilmenite from the Sea of Tranquillity, (Apollo 11) and uranium concentrated in Fe-Ti accessory minerals (Apollo 12) probably originating from the lunar highlands.

In 1970 he directed the start of a multi-element geochemical survey programme based on stream-sediment sampling to cover Great Britain, which continues to this day. In 1984 he was appointed Chairman of the Department of the Environment Research Advisory Group set up to advise on the research necessary to ensure the safe disposal of all forms of radioactive waste and in 1985 submitted the Group’s report and gave written evidence to the House of Commons Environment Committee on Radioactive Waste. He continued to recommend that nuclear power has a major role to play in the UK as a supplier of environmentally secure 24/7 baseload electricity to the National Grid. Indeed, just before he died he told his son Antony to cancel the ambulance that had been called to take him to hospital as “he still had too much work to do”.

Stanley was internationally respected and renowned and valued for his unique combination of practical, innovative geoscientific, economic, personal and social knowledge, skills and sense of humour, which greatly contributed to his success as an economic geologist. He received the Silver Medal, Royal Society of Arts, 1959 and was Vice President of the Geological Society 1972-5. He was a Team Member, Queen’s Award for Technological Achievement, 1990, for development of the inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer. A new rhodium iridium sulphide was named Bowieite by Dr George Desborough of the US Geological Survey in recognition of his research in the field of opaque mineral identification.

He is survived by his two sons, Roderick and Antony from his lifelong marriage to Helen, daughter of Dr Roy Pocock FGS, who predeceased him by four weeks.

Peter Simpson