University of Birmingham Staff Papers: Papers of Phillip Burton Moon FRS

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Section A: Biographical, 1940-1946: Includes Moon's autobiographical accounts for his Royal Society Personal Record; material assembled by W.E. Burcham relating to his and G.R. Isaak's Biographical Memoir of Moon; documentation of Moon's career and honours including his election as Fellow of the Royal Society and the award of its Hughes medal in 1991.

Section B, University of Birmingham, 1949-1996: Material relating to the Department of Physics and Moon's Deanship of the Faculty of Science and Engineering. The bulk of the papers relate to the development of nuclear physics at Birmingham and include material relating to the 40th anniversary of the proton synchrotron, celebrated in 1993, and the 'Birmingham Proton Synchrotron Archive' assembled by W.E.Buchram.

Section C: Research, 1928-1992: Covers Moon's work in a number of areas from the late 1920s to 1990s; documentation of his work on positive ions and neutrons during the 1930s and wartime work on atomic power. This includes research material of M.L.E. Oliphant. Also material relating to Moon's post war work on rotors and molecular beams and to his research with the University of Birmingham synchrotron.

Section D, UK Accelerator Development, 1955-1960: Correspondence and papers relating to Moon's contribution to discussions in 1955 regarding the proposed development of a high energy accelerator at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, Harwell, and Moon's service on the Working Party of the Physics Committee of the National Institute for Research in Nuclear Science during 1960.

Section E, Drafts, publications and lectures, 1925-1995: A chronological sequence of drafts, 1940-1992, including unpublished wartime work on radio signals; a nearly complete set of Moon's off-prints; manuscript drafts for broadcasts in the 1940s; lectures to the Poynting Physical Society; documentation of Moon's 1975 Rutherford Memorial Lecture and a lecture on J.H. Poynting given during the centenary celebrations of the Department of Physics in 1980.

Section F, Correspondence, 1937-1995: A small series including an extended exchange with M.L.E. Oliphant, 1937-1946. Other correspondence is with D.R. Herschbach, Nobel Laureate for Chemistry 1986, and with W.E. Burcham.

Administrative / Biographical History

Philip Burton Moon, (1907-1994) was educated at Leyton County High School before winning a scholarship to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge in 1935. He graduated in the Natural Sciences Tripos in 1928, having taken Physics in part II. Moon went on to research in the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge under M.L.E. Oliphant. In 1931 he was appointed Assistant Lecturer at Imperial College London (Lecturer from 1934). Working under G.P.Thompson he researched in neutron physics. In 1938 Moon moved to University of Birmingham as Lecturer in the Department of Physics following his former supervisor M.L.E. Oliphant . He and Oliphant set up a school of nuclear physics. During the Second World War Moon spent time in Washington and Manhattan, America, working on short-wave radar, and the atomic bomb projects, returning to England after the war to continue research in nuclear physics at Birmingham. Cyclotron work begun before the war was continued and a proton synchroton became operational in the early 1950s.

Moon was appointed Reader in 1943, and Professor in 1946. On Oliphant's move to the Australian National University at Canberra in 1950, Moon succeeded him in the Poynting Chair of Physics, holding this post until his retirement in 1974. He was head of the Department of Physics until 1970 and Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering 1969-1972.

Moon made important contributions to physics. The citation of Moon for the Royal Society Hughes Medal noted his work in three main areas: "nuclear physics, the discovery of gamma-ray resonances, and the use of colliding molecular beams to study chemical reactions". In the 1930s at Imperial College London, working with J.R. Tillman, he had demonstrated the existence of thermal neutrons and during the war after work on radar he joined the 'Tube Alloys' project working on developing the atomic bomb. Returning to Birmingham after the war, Moon resumed work with the cyclotron and saw the completion of the Proton Synchrotron, the first synchrotron of its type in the world to work at full power. He also developed a technique for observing the resonant scattering of gamma rays by nuclei using high-speed rotors.

Moon was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1947. He gave the Royal Society's Rutherford Memorial Lecture on a visit to Australia in 1975 and was awarded its Hughes Medal in 1991.

Reference: Timothy E. Powell and Peter Harper, Catalogue of the Papers and Correspondence of Philip Burton Moon FRS (National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists. Bath. 1997).

For further reading about the University of Birmingham see: Eric Ives, Diane Drummond, Leonard Schwarz The First Civic University: Birmingham 1880-1980 An Introductory History (The University of University of Birmingham Press. 2000).


The collection is arranged in the following series: Biographical; University of Birmingham; research; UK Accelerator Development; drafts, publications, lectures and broadcasts; correspondence.

Conditions Governing Access

Not all the material in this collection is available for consultation. Please contact the Archivist for further details.

Acquisition Information

This collection was deposited by Moon's son in the early 1990s. A further deposit was assembled and made by Professor W.E. Burcham in 1996 while preparing the Royal Society biographical memoir of Moon.

Other Finding Aids

A paper catalogue to file and item level is available in the Special Collections Department and at the National Register of Archives in London. A catalogue is available in electronic form on the Access to Archive (A2A) web site:

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of any material from the collection must be sought in advance in writing from the University Archivist, Special Collections. Identification of copyright holders of unpublished material is often difficult. Special Collections will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.


Further deposits are not expected.

Related Material

Further biographical material of Moon is located with the family. Other papers relating to Moon are located in School of Physics files deposited with the University of Birmingham Archives.

University of Birmingham Information Services, Special Collections Department also holds the archives of the University of Birmingham and archives of other former staff, officials and students.