University of Wales, Aberystwyth Department of Physics Archive

Scope and Content

The archive contains departmental photographs; papers reflecting the relationship between the department and the British Physics Society; statistics concerning student admissions and pass rates; internal departmental correspondence; order books for equipment and apparatus; log books recording use of equipment; correspondence and reports regarding the department's financial position; offprints of papers written by members of staff; references written for former students; plans of the current Physics Building, and papers concerning the Faraday exhibition held by the department in 1931.

Administrative / Biographical History

The University of Wales, Aberystwyth was established in 1872, and Physics was taught from the start as part of Natural Philosophy, Astronomy and Mathematics, under the tuition of Professor N R Grimley. In 1877, the Physics Department was founded as a separate entity, and was under the responsibility of geologist, Professor F W Rudler. 1885 saw the appointment of the first physics professor, D E Jones.At first, the Physics Department was based in the south wing of the main college building, now the old college. But this part of the building was destroyed by fire in 1885. Rebuilding was undertaken, and from 1888 to 1962 the Physics department was based in the new south wing. In 1896, the department had 51 students out of a total of 355 studying at Aberystwyth. By 1961, this had risen to 219. This led to a need for new, expanded accommodation. This need was met in 1962, with the completion of the Physical Sciences building on the Penglais campus, officially opened by Sir Graham Sutton in 1963.

The department has always had a tradition of both theoretical and experimental research. Early work by staff was undertaken largely in Germany, but the advent of the First World War put a stop to this. During the first years of the twentieth century, research concentrated on electrical conductivity and quantum theory, and in the 1920s focused on thermal conductivity amongst other subjects. This period also saw work appear in the Welsh language in the form of Professor Gwilym Owen's lectures on acoustics. In 1931, the department hosted a Faraday Centenary Exhibition, 2which involved lectures on various topics, including x-rays and wireless transmissions. It attracted over 600 visitors. The 1930s also saw the development of the first research school under Professor R M Davies.

The Advent of the Second World War again affected departmental research output. Many staff, such as E J Williams and D A Richards, were seconded to work for the military and the government, whilst other members of staff concentrated on training men for the forces or for government research. 1940 saw 44 students arrive at the department from University College, London, which put an even greater strain on teaching staff and resources. But the post-war years saw a return to research work, with investigations undertaken in the fields of mechanical and nuclear physics. The university also received a grant from the Meteorological Office to investigate air densities at high altitude - the beginning of a fruitful and long-running trend of external funding for research work. By the 1970s work was being done on experimental rocket launching equipment, and the 1980s saw the department become involved with work on the European radar facility, EISCAT.

Today, the Physics Department has an excellent reputation in both research and teaching. It attracts approximately 50 new students annually, and is currently ranked within the top twelve departments in the UK for research income per member of staff. Work at the moment is focused upon areas including atmospheric physics and shock wave and combustion physics, which confront real problems such as ozone depletion and the design of silicon-chip detectors.

Access Information

The papers may be consulted through application by e-mail to: or by post to: Aberystwyth University, Archives, Information Services, Llandinam Building, Penglais, Aberystwyth, SY23 3DB. Tel: 01970 628593.


Description compiled by Rhian Phillips, Archives Hub project archivist, with reference to W M Jones, 'One Hundred Years of Physics at UCW Aberystwyth', unpublished second draft, (1997) and UWA Physical Sciences Building, (Aberystwyth: University of Wales Press, 1963).

Other Finding Aids

Basic finding aid available on request from Archives staff.

Related Material

The University of Wales, Aberystwyth Physics Society Archive, along with the papers of E J Williams and D A Richards, former members of staff within the department, are also held by the University.