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Henry Tizard

  Sir Henry Thomas Tizard (23 August 1885 in Gillingham, Kent – 9 October 1959 in Fareham, Hampshire) was an English chemist and inventor and past Rector of Imperial College.

Tizard's ambition to join the navy was thwarted by poor eyesight and he instead studied at Westminster School and Magdalen College, Oxford where he concentrated on mathematics and chemistry, doing work on indicators and the motions of ions in gases in 1911.



"The secret of science" he once said "is to ask the right question, and it is the choice of problem more than anything else that marks the man of genius in the scientific world." Tizard's chosen problem became aeronautics. At the outbreak of the First World War he joined first the Royal Garrison Artillery (where his training methods were famously bizarre) and then experimental equipment officer to the Royal Flying Corps and learned to fly planes - seemingly his eyesight had improved - acting as his own test pilot for making aerodynamical observations. When his superior Bertram Hopkinson was moved to the Ministry of Munitions, Tizard went with him. When Hopkinson died in 1918 Tizard took over his post. Tizard served in the Royal Air Force from 1918 to 1919.

After the war he was made Reader in Chemical Thermodynamics at Oxford where he experimented in the composition of fuel trying to find compounds which were resistant to freezing and less volatile, devising the concept of "toluene numbers" - now referred to as octane numbers. After this work (largely for Shell) he took up again a government post as assistant secretary to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. His successes in this post (and after promotions to permanent secretary) included the establishment of the post of the Chemical Research Laboratory in Teddington, the appointment of a Director of Scientific Research to the Air Force (H. E. Wimperis) and finally the decision to leave to become the Rector of Imperial College, London, in 1929, a position he held until 1942.

In 1933 Tizard was appointed as chairman of the Aeronautical Research Committee and served in this post for most of the Second World War. He supervised, and championed, the development of RDF (radio-direction finding), better known as radar, in the run-up to the war.

In 1940, after a top secret landmark conference with Winston Churchill at which his opposition to Reginald Victor Jones's view that the Germans had established a system of radio-beam bombing aids (Battle of the Beams) over the UK had been overruled, Tizard led what became known as the Tizard Mission to the United States, which introduced to the US, amongst others, the newly invented resonant-cavity magnetron and other British radar developments, the Whittle gas turbine, and the British Tube Alloys project.

Post war

He returned to the Ministry of Defence in 1948 as Chief Scientific Adviser, a post that he held until 1952. The Ministry of Defence's Nick Pope states that "The Ministry of Defence’s UFO Project has its roots in a study commissioned in 1950 by the MOD’s then Chief Scientific Adviser, the great radar scientist Sir Henry Tizard. As a result of his insistence that UFO sightings should not be dismissed without some form of proper scientific study, the Department set up arguably the most marvellously-named committee in the history of the civil service, the Flying Saucer Working Party. or the FSWP [1] [2]

Tizard had followed the official debate about ghost rockets with interest and was intrigued by the increasing media coverage of UFO sightings in the UK, America and other parts of the world. Using his authority as Chief Scientific Adviser at the MOD he decided that the subject should not be dismissed without some proper, official investigation. Accordingly, he agreed that a small Directorate of Scientific Intelligence/Joint Technical Intelligence Committee (DSI/JTIC) working party should be set up to investigate the phenomenon. This was dubbed the Flying Saucer Working Party. The DSI/JTIC minutes recording this historic development read as follows:

“The Chairman said that Sir Henry Tizard felt that reports of flying saucers ought not to be dismissed without some investigation and he had, therefore, agreed that a small DSI/JTIC Working Party should be set up under the chairmanship of Mr Turney to investigate future reports.

After discussion it was agreed that the membership of the Working Party should comprise representatives of DSI1, ADNI(Tech), MI10 and ADI(Tech). It was also agreed that it would probably be necessary at some time to consult the Meteorological Department and ORS Fighter Command but that these two bodies should not at present be asked to nominate representatives”.

After the war Tizard served as chairman of the Defence Research Policy Committee and president of the British Association. He died in 1959. His papers are kept at the Imperial War Museum, London.

See also

  • Tizard's briefcase

Further reading

  • Ronald Clark, Tizard (London, 1965). A biography written at the request of the subject's son.
Preceded by
Thomas Holland
Rector of Imperial College
Succeeded by
Richard Southwell
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Henry_Tizard". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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