Friday 29 July 2011

Notable University Figures (2): Professor Walter E. Spear

In the second in our series looking at important figures in the University’s past we turn our attention to Walter Spear, one of the most distinguished physicists to have worked at the University of Dundee, and a man whose research made a major contribution to our everyday lives.

Born in Germany in 1921, Walter. E. Spear came to the UK just before the Second World War. After studying at the University of London he joined the University of Leicester, where he first met a student named Peter LeComber whose career would become intertwined with Spear’s own. In 1969 the two joined the staff of the University of Dundee where they would become famed for their research into the properties of amorphous silicon. The work of Spear and LeComber and their research team attracted much interest from companies and groups who saw that it had huge scientific and commercial potential. The research carried out in Dundee led to the creation of the amorphous film silicon transistor. This innovation directly led to LCD technology and the eventual development of solar panels and flat screen TVs. Spear’s work was recognised with a number of prestigious awards including the European Physical Society Europhysics prize (1976) and the Max Born Medal and Prize for Physics (1977).

Spear retired in 1988, and after the sudden death of Peter LeComber in 1992, effectively ended his active research career. Spear himself passed away at the age of 87 in 2008.

Walter Spear’s papers are held by Archive Services (UR-SF 57). They include articles written by Spear and notes for some of his talks and public lectures. The papers also include an unusual collection of letters sent to Spear some of which were sent by members of the public seeking support for their unorthodox scientific theories.

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