Wilfrid Bennett Lewis
1908 - 1987

The Scientific Biography of Wilfrid Bennett Lewis.

by Ruth Fawcett

NUCLEAR PURSUITS is the scientific biography of Wilfrid Bennett Lewis, the physicist who dominated nuclear research and the development of nuclear power in Canada for nearly three decades, from the end of World War II until his retirement in 1973.   The development of the CANDU reactor was his most stunning achievement.

Born in England in 1908, Lewis earned a doctorate at Cavendish Laboratory in 1934 and continued his research on nuclear physics there until 1939. During the war he worked on the development of radar and in 1945 became chief superintendent of the Telecommunications Research Establishement at Malvern.    A year later he agreed to head Canada's fledgling nuclear research facility at Chalk River, Ontario, where he made his professional home for the next twenty-seven years.

Lewis's drive, intelligence, and remarkable organizational skills placed him at the forefront of Canada's nuclear program.   Convinced that nuclear energy could be used economically for generating electricity, Lewis fostered a collaboration between Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) and Ontario Hydro that led to the development of the CANDU reactor.   CANDU has proven to be an efficient reactor whose performance compares very favourably with all other power reactors around the world.   Lewis's efforts in developing this design, and his effective support of a strong tradition of basic reasearch, are his most important legacies.   Under his guidance, scientists at AECL achieved excellence in a number of fields and the laboratories have maintained those standards to the present.

Though not every project he promoted came to fruition, in particular the Intense Neutron Generator, and he seemed never to recognize the political aspects of the nuclear energy program, Lewis's influence on the development of science, technology, and industry in Canada and abroad was unique and profound. His story sheds new light on Canada's postwar science history, debates concerning national science policy, and growing international scientific collaborations.   NUCLEAR PURSUITS will be of interest to a wide audience, including scientists, engineers, historians of science and industry, and students of postwar Canadian history.

"The life and career of W.B. Lewis is very much a part of the history of science during an exciting age ... The biography is interesting, easy to read, and instructive to the younger generation of scientists and engineers."
         - H.G. Thode, Department of Chemistry, McMaster University.

Ruth Fawcett is a Research Officer in the Research Branch of the Library of Parliament.

240 pp 6 x 9 Illustrated
cloth ISBN 0-7735-1186-5 CAN$37.95

Originally posted by Eric Fawcett, Sun, 20 Aug 1995 23:23:21

From the Nuclear Journal of Canada, Volume 1, No. 2, June 1987, Published by the Canadian Nuclear Society

1908 June 24Born Castle Carrock, Cumberland, England
EducationClare House School
Haileybury College
Cambridge University
1930-39Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge.   Worked on alpha radioactivity with Lord Rutherford.   Worked on nuclear disintegration by particles accelerated by high voltage and on the construction and operation of the Cambridge cyclotron
1939-46On loan to the British Air Ministry.   At end of the war was Chief Superintendent of the Telecommunications Research Establishment.
1945Fellow of the Royal Society (London)
1946Appointed Director, Division of Atomic Energy Research, NRC at Chalk River
1952On formation of Atomic Energy of Canada became Vice-President, Research and Development
Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada
1955-64Director of the American Nuclear Society (President 1961-62)
1963Appointed Senior Vice-president (Science) of AECL
1966First recipient Outstanding Achievement Award of the Public Service of Canada
1967U.S.Atoms for Peace Award
1968Companion of the Order of Canada
1971Honorary Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University
1972Royal Medal of the Royal Society of London
1973Retired from AECL. Appointed Distinguished Professor of Science, Queen's University
1981U.S. Department of Energy Enrico Fermi Award
1987 Jan 10Died in Deep River, Ontario
In the international sphere Dr Lewis was a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Canadian delegate to the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Secretary General of the United Nations.   He was also active in the organization of the various UN Geneva Conferences on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

An additional article, from the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) is reprinted here from the CNA 1983 Nuclear Canada Yearbook (3.6 MB pdf).

The Royal Society of Canada biography of W.B. Lewis is located here (180 kB pdf).

The University of Saskatchewan conferred an honourary degree of Doctor of Science upon W.B. Lewis in 1964. This was one of many honourary degrees and awards he received.

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