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Rocks Radio and Radar: The Extraordinary Scientific, Social and Military Life of Elizabeth Alexander [Reduced while stocks last]

Product Code: MPRRR
Series: Miscellaneous titles
Author/Editor: By Mary Harris
Publication Date: 21 May 2019
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Published by World Scientific
History of Modern Physical Sciences: Volume 4

Special offer (while stocks last) RRP £130

Many women scientists, particularly those who did crucial work in two world wars, have disappeared from history. Until they are written back in, the history of science will continue to remain unbalanced. This book tells the story of Elizabeth Alexander, a pioneering scientist who changed thinking in geology and radio astronomy during WWII and its aftermath.
Building on an unpublished diary, recently declassified government records and archive material adding considerably to knowledge about radar developments in the Pacific in WWII, this book also contextualises Elizabeth's academic life in Singapore before the war, and the country's educational and physical reconstruction after it as it moved towards independence.
This unique story is a must-read for readers interested in scientific, social and military history during the WWII, historians of geology, radar, as well as scientific biographies.

Type: Book
Ten Digit ISBN:
Thirteen Digit ISBN: 9781786346643
Publisher: Distributed by GSL
Binding: Hardback
Pages: 616
Weight: 1.13 kg


Introduction: A Wide Web of Research
Family Connexions
From Patna to Cambridge
Singapore: Geology and A Globe
New Zealand Revelations 1940
Singapore: War and the Military
New Zealand: A New Life
New Zealand: A Life Scientific
Singapore: Disaster, Death and Survival
Singapore: Revival and Rebirth
Nigeria's First University
A Disappearance from History


David G. Smith

Elizabeth Who? In this (2019) centenary of the election of the Society’s first female Fellow, we should not need reminding that women are not only under-represented in the history of the geosciences but that some of them have effectively but unjustly ‘been disappeared’ from collective memory. Mary Harris’s engaging and extensively researched account of her mother’s life—extraordinary indeed—is also her own personal quest for the mother who, largely through force of professional circumstance, was absent through much of her children’s formative years. While some of Alexander’s important work on tropical weathering and the geology of Singapore was publicly available, albeit beneath variable depths of overburden, her critically important contribution to the development and use of radar in wartime New Zealand was classified until 1992. That her radar work generated observations (on radio waves from the Sun) that led to the new science of radio astronomy has also been forgotten. Until she started her research for this book, Harris herself was unaware of the existence of extensive unpublished material in her own family’s possession. Some of the most moving passages are direct quotes from Alexander’s wartime diary, written in the form of letters to her husband, who was interned in Changi and Sime Road camps from 1942 to 1945.

If this sounds familiar to readers of Geoscientist, turn back to the November issue for 2017, in which an article by Mary Harris (a preview of this biography) focuses on Alexander’s contribution to the geology of Singapore. Alexander comes across as a hugely energetic scientist, whose enthusiasm was fired initially by her PhD field work in Shropshire (published under her maiden name of Caldwell), but whose abilities went much further than rocks, leading to her unplanned involvement in radio and radar, and later in university administration in Singapore and Ibadan, Nigeria, where anyone expecting the existence of the wife of a Professor to be merely ornamental was in for a disappointment.

The book opens with a preface by Bryan Lovell, whose research on the Hertfordshire Puddingstone has benefited from Alexander’s experimental approach to tropical weathering, and whose father, like both of my own parents, was involved in wartime radar work. Although its subject was primarily a geologist, and there is geology in the book, it is history of science more generally, and of women in science in particular, that is served by this very readable biography.

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