Tribute at Oxford RSC Landmark event for First World War's Lost Scientist

24 September 2007

The Royal Society of Chemistry and the University of Oxford will, on Monday 24 September, jointly mark the achievements of the brilliant scientist Henry Moseley, who was killed at the age of 27 in the British-led attack on the Dardanelles in Turkey, during the First World War.

Writing of Moseley, Isaac Asimov remarked: "In view of what he might have accomplished... his death might well have been the most costly single death of the war to mankind generally."

Henry Moseley (1887-1915) made many important contributions to science, including demonstrating that atomic numbers were not arbitrary but had a physical basis that could be measured. This breakthrough (Moseley's Law) would enable the elements in the periodic table to be put in their correct order and the existence of as-yet-unknown elements to be accurately predicted. His work also provided one of the first experimental tests of quantum theory. Many believe that, had he lived, Moseley would have been awarded the Nobel Prize. 

Speaking at the event will be the Minister-Counsellor of the Turkish Embassy in London, who will read words written to commemorate the British and Anzac dead of the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign, delivered famously after the war by the Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk.

The Minister-Counsellor, Mr Atilay Ersan, will be introduced by the Royal Society of Chemistry President Professor Jim Feast; later the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Dr John Hood, will unveil a plaque donated by the RSC.

A lecture on the work of Henry Moseley will be delivered by Professor E. Joseph Nordgren, Professor of Soft X-Ray Physics, University of Uppsala, Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Henry Moseley insisted on joining the armed forces rather than remaining safely in scientific research, and was killed while serving in the Gallipoli landings where British, Australian and New Zealanders were defeated after a ferocious campaign with high casualties that led to criticism of Winston Churchill, the landing's primary architect.

Fighting the British Empire forces in the bloody campaign was Lt-Col Mustafa Kemal who later became known as Kemal Ataturk, the soldier-statesman who pulled his country from the rubble of the collapsed Ottoman Empire, creating a new republic with a political system that would survive his own time. 

Ataturk was later to honour movingly the British, Australian and New Zealander dead when he said:

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours... You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. Having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well." 

It has been suggested that the death of Henry Moseley resulted in an unwritten, but unheeded, call for eminent young scientists to be discouraged from joining the fighting in the front line in wartime, in order not to squander potential scientific progress.

Richard Pike, chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: "We are delighted that the Turkish embassy offered not only to attend but to arrange for the reading of the famous Atarturk words from 1934. Although we are to honour the scientific achievements of one individual at the Landmark ceremony we will also be recalling the loss of a great scientist and countless others from all walks of life whose full potential was never to be realised because of the hand of war."

Related Links

Link icon Henry Moseley
Biography on Wikipedia

Link icon Ataturk
Brief biography on Australian War Memorial website

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