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192 Burhop to Rivett

Letter (extract) BERKELEY, 10 June 1944

As I have now been in Berkeley a month I thought you might be interested in my impressions of my new field of activities. [1] Naturally I can only speak first hand of the small sector of this tremendous project with which I am particularly concerned, but I have also had the opportunity of discussing matters generally with some of the people who have a wider perspective of the project and knowing the difficult nature of the decisions you are called on to make in Australia, I thought perhaps other impressions apart from those you have already heard might help. In the first place, what I have seen and heard convinces me that Oliphant was not over- enthusiastic in his earlier assessments of the position to you.

There is no doubt of the stupendous implications of the work and of the fact that it will in time be successful.

I know the point that interests you most is whether it will be successful sufficiently soon to have any bearing on the present war. Naturally it so happens that the answer to this question is one of the things that is most secret in the whole project. My own impression (it can only be an impression) is that there is a very real chance of something being accomplished in this direction unless the war proves of shorter duration than any of us at the present moment has any right to hope. I can completely discount any suggestion such as I heard made in Australia that the whole business was set-up to utilize people for whom it was difficult to find other positions. It is certainly no 'rest-home for physicists' as, on the whole, the scientific personnel work harder here than I have ever seen them work anywhere else.

My own feeling is that this project is very important for the future of Australia and the present time is a golden opportunity to get knowledge of the techniques that, it seems, will prove vital for the future of the country. In my opinion there are in Australia several people who have had the right type of training that would make them suitable to pick up the various techniques involved and would enable them to make a significant contribution to the work. in addition to the obvious names of Martin [2] and Webster [3], such names as Hill [4] and Corben [5] of Melbourne, or of Makinson [6] of Sydney, suggest themselves.

Well I hope you don't think it presumptuous of me to write in this fashion. I understand only too well the conflicting claims that are being made for Australian scientific manpower and the difficulties with which you are faced in deciding between them. If the opportunity ever should arise however to send any or several of these people I feel certain it would be in the ultimate interests of the country.

With regard to myself personally, I can say that I do not regret the decision to send me across. I am working particularly with Massey [7], with whom I have worked a good deal in the past and I am finding our own particular aspect most interesting.

[matter omitted]


1 Burhop had recently joined the Manhattan Project.

2 Dr L. H. Martin, Associate Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Melbourne, seconded to C.S.I.R.

3 Dr Hugh Webster, Lecturer in Bio-Physics, University of Queensland, on special duty with C.S.I.R.

4 J. W. Hill, Research Officer, C.S.I.R. Radiophysics Laboratory.

5 Dr H. C. Corben, Lecturer in Mathematics and Physics, University of Melbourne.

6 Dr R. E. B. Makinson, Instructor in Radiophysics in the wartime radar program.

7 Dr H. S. W. Massey, Technical Officer, U.K. Scientific and Industrial Research Department Mission to the University of California at Berkeley.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History