Bill Fletcher,

Emeritus Professor, Strathclyde University

Sir Samuel Crowe Curran, first Principal and

Vice-Chancellor of Strathclyde University; born May 23, 1912, died February 25, 1998

ALTHOUGH his mother, heavily pregnant, made a short trip from Wishaw to Northern Ireland so that her son would be born there, she returned soon after the birth and Sam Curran grew up, and remained all his life, essentially a Lanarkshire man, in attitude and in speech. Not even Cambridge could change that.

Students at Strathclyde recognised him as one of their own, always willing to listen to their grievances and to right them when appropriate. This was no pampered academic.

After attending Wishaw High School (where he was Dux) Sam took a First Class Honours degree in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Glasgow University, followed by his PhD for research into methods of detecting radiation. Then he was off in 1937 to the Cavendish Labora-tory, Cambridge, to be accepted by the great Rutherford (the first man to split the atom) and to proceed, under his guidance, to a further PhD on novel methods of detecting radiation.

In the summer of 1939 it was proposed that Philip Dee (Curran's immediate supervisor) and his team of five scientists should spend five weeks at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. Scarcely had they arrived there when war was declared against Germany. Soon they moved to Exeter and were heavily involved in war research, particularly on the development of the proximity fuse and on long-range centimetre radar.

But it was not all work. One member of the team was Dr Joan Struthers, and she and Dr Curran married on November 7, 1940. She was to be an enormous support to him for the remainder of his long life. But she was more than that. A distinguished scientist in her own right, it was she who devised ''Operation Window'', the scattering of strips of tinfoil in the air, that was so effective in disrupting enemy radar.

Early in 1944 Sam Curran was sent to the United States to work on the highly secret ''Manhattan Project'' - the development of the atomic bomb - at the Radiation Laboratory, Berkeley, California. It was also during this period that Sam Curran invented the scintillation counter - a device for measuring radio-

activity that is still in use in almost every scientific laboratory in the world. He got little credit, and no money, for his invention. It was all part of the war effort.

Although at the end of the war, Curran was offered a post at the University of California, he decided to return to Glasgow University to work with his former supervisor, Philip Dee, who had been appointed to the Chair of Natural Philosophy there. Together they supervised the installation of a 200 MeV synchroton for nuclear physics research. During this period, Curran was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Although the Department rapidly gained an international reputation, and although his research was going smoothly, Curran began to feel the need to move again and in 1955 he joined Sir William (later Lord) Penny (with whom he had worked on the atomic bomb project and who was responsible for Britain producing its own atomic (1952) and hydrogen (1957) bombs at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Aldermaston, as a deputy chief scientist. He took responsibility for a substantial part of the work on the hydrogen bomb and he spent five very successful years there.

But perhaps his greatest achievement was yet to come - the founding of the first new university in Scotland for 400 years and the first technological university in Britain. Only those who served with him during those eventful years can truly appreciate the enormous dyna-mism and single-mindedness of the man as he went about

that task. He was extremely forthright in expressing his

opinions, as Sir Keith Murray, Chairman of the UGC, discovered when he was arguing the case with him for university status for the Royal College.

Curran knew exactly what he wanted his university to be - a place of useful learning - and

he achieved that. Not, however, single-handedly. He always ack-nowledged the tremendous debt that he owed to his support staff, administrative and academic. He could be ruthless with anyone he thought was slacking or trying to pull the wool over his eyes, but there also was a very caring side to his nature, being very supportive of anyone with good ideas, and kind, helpful, and gentle to anyone in trouble.

One thing that angered him very much was the lack of recognition of the part that science and technology had played in winning the Second World War. There were no scientists in the parades to mark the fiftieth anniversaries of VE and VJ days, yet it was the discoveries and developments by scientists and engineers that made victory possible. He never had any doubt that it was right to use the atomic bomb.

The Currans' first child, Sheena, born in 1945, was unfortunately severely handicapped. This was a great sadness to them but they threw themselves into work for the disabled, forming a Scottish Society for parents and other concerned people which now has more than 80 branches. Sam Curran is survived by his wife, his daughter, three sons (all PhDs), and three grandsons, who were the light of his life.