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Sir Gordon Sutherland

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Sir Gordon Brims Black McIvor Sutherland was a physicist who was appointed director of the National Physics Laboratory from 1956 to 1964 before he became master of Emmanuel College in Cambridge,

Sir Gordon was born in Caithness in 1907 and educated at Morgan Academy, Dundee and at St Andrews University.

Subsequently he was a research student at the University of Cambridge where he developed an interest in infrared spectra. This interest led to him spending two years as a Commonwealth Fund Fellow at the University of Michigan, where he worked on the vibrations and rotations of molecules.

On his return to Cambridge and the award of his PhD in 1934 he collaborated with W G Penney on infra-red and Raman spectroscopy. Over this period he was a Fellow of Pembroke College. During the 1939-1945 war he worked for the Ministry of Supply on bomb disposal, and also in Cambridge from 1941 onwards he used his knowledge of spectroscopy (in collaboration with others) to analyse fuel mixtures used by enemy aircraft, to identify their sources.

After the war he was a reader in spectroscopy in Cambridge and he returned to Michigan in 1949 (in which year he was also elected FRS) as Professor of Physics. From 1956-1964 he was director of the United Kingdom National Physical Laboratory. He was knighted in 1960 and became Master of Emmanuel in 1964. 


He was awarded the Glazebrook Medal in 1972 by the Institute of Physics, for which he served as President from 1964 to 1966.


He died in 1980 and is buried in Little Shelford churchyard (right).

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