Born: August 3, 1934; Died: April 8, 2012.
Donald Miller, who has died aged 77, was a physicist who was at the vanguard of the development of the bubble chamber technique used to detect electrically charged particles.
He was born in Torrance, Stirlingshire, one of three children, and lost both his parents when he was 18, his mother from peritonitis and his father in a motor cycle accident. He was educated at Allan Glen's School in Glasgow, where he won a bursary to study science at Glasgow University and subsequently completed a PhD in Particle Physics.
He started work at Imperial College, London in 1962 and became one of the stalwarts of the High Energy Physics Group until his retirement in 1999. In the 1960s the dominant analysis tool in the group was the bubble chamber technique: this involved taking many thousands of photographs of the bubbles formed along the tracks of charged particles fired into the chamber. Typically the experiment would take place at one of the large particle physics laboratories like CERN and then the film would be brought back to Imperial for analysis. Dr Miller became the expert for the group's measuring devices, ensuring reliability and innovating techniques such as the then-revolutionary idea of using a small computer to accelerate the process.
The 1960s and 70s saw a major expansion in the bubble chamber technique and Dr Miller remained in the vanguard of the advances. These involved firing different types of particle, pi mesons, K mesons and anti-protons into chambers containing either hydrogen or deuterium so that interactions involving both protons and neutrons could be examined. A significant advance came with the hybrid bubble chamber, first used at the Stanford Accelerator Center in California, which combined the merits of the traditional bubble chamber with the use of electronic particle detectors.
Towards the end of the 1970s and through the 80s Dr Miller led a major new activity in the group, the study of neutrino and anti-neutrino interactions in a huge new bubble chamber, BEBC (Big European Bubble Chamber). Neutrinos are strange particles which hardly ever interact but this series of experiments produced many outstanding results, which remain significant to this day. By the end of the 1980s it became clear that the style of experiments would change with the advent of colliding beam experiments using electronic detectors.
A new accelerator was being built at the DESY laboratory in Hamburg where 920 GeV protons were made to collide with 27 GeV electrons or positrons. This was a totally new departure and Dr Miller grasped the opportunity and led the Imperial group into the ZEUS experiment. It became one of the world's major experiments and Dr Miller continued to work on it officially until he retired in 1999 – and unofficially until the experiment was decommissioned in 2007.
At home with his wife Shirley and their four children lived in Petersham, Dr Miller became an active member of Petersham and Ham Sea Scouts, the oldest Sea Scout Troop in the country. His dedication to the Sea Scouts over 30 years was both exceptional and professional. He taught himself to sail and canoe in order to be able to instruct the boys on the Thames and on many Scout camps.
Unfortunately, just before his retirement Dr Miller was diagnosed, much too late, with diabetes and had an emergency quadruple by-pass at the Brompton Hospital. Eventually heart damage took its toll and his activities were curtailed.
He hoped to retire to Kames on the Kyles of Bute where he and Shirley owned a holiday house, in order to indulge his passion for sailing. But ill health prevented this and he turned his skills to model making, constructing a very intricate 1:60 wooden model of Captain Cook's vessel Endeavour.
He spent his last year in hospital but not before he managed to fulfil his ambition of visiting St Kilda and the Iron Age Broch on Moussa, Shetland. The Scottish Enlightenment, Scottish History and Scottish Country Dancing and music were lifelong his main interests.
He is survived by his wife Shirley, four children and 11 grandchildren.