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Chapter 2: Max the scientist

C Maxwell Cade MIBiol, MInstP, CEng, FIEE, FIERE.

  At school-leaving age, Max wanted to study medicine and, after overcoming opposition from his father, became a student at Guy’s Hospital medical school, in London.   But medical school raised conflicts with many of the ideas he had already acquired:  “All Eastern ideas, I found, were treated with scorn and derision, so I began to keep my interests strictly to myself for fear of being ostracised by even my closest friends . . . I began to understand, too, why my father, who had studied yoga, was so secretive about it . . .”  Influenced by the work of a psychiatrist,  Max switched to clinical psychology and qualified at Birkbeck College, also part of London University, in the late 1930s before joining the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in 1942 during the second world war as an air cadet/navigator.  He transferred to the Royal Naval Scientific Service where, as an experimental officer, he worked in the new field of radar.  Later, he believed that exposure to the high electromagnetic fields of the radar scanners caused him to develop eye cataracts at a rather young age.

After the war he went into industry and we know that he was working at Osram, an electronics factory in west London where he joined the company’s newly formed judo club, the Osram Judokai.  In 1958 Max won the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Navigation Prize with a paper on new methods of astronavigation, part of his long research into radiation physics, both in the Royal Naval Scientific Service and in industry.  In 1960, and again in 1961, he won the Radio Industry Council’s National Award for Technical Writing, with two papers on infra-red radiation physics.

In the mid-1950s Max moved from his job as a scientist at the Admiralty’s research centre at Harlow, in Essex, to work at Kelvin and Hughes a few miles away. The company specialised in marine radar but this was the Cold War period and he headed a team of 20 engaged in secret work for the British government, including devising systems able to monitor the launch of rockets in the Soviet Union. He lunched frequently with high-ranking civil servants visiting from London.

But Max did not fit the popular image of the scientist as a specialist concentrating doggedly on solving a single problem in a narrow field. His interests were broad, impelled by a restless urge to explore the most advanced ideas in any field that attracted him.   A colleague in another team at Kelvin and Hughes, Dickie Huxley, says Max was noted for the unusually long bibliographies at the end of his published papers and articles. The navigation paper for the Royal Aeronautical Society concluded by listing well over 200 sources. “If you wanted to know about something, you didn’t read Maxwell’s work but simply looked up all the books for which he had given references,” Huxley remembers.

Max explained some of the findings in lectures he gave at the professional institutions of which he was a member. In experimental science, of course, the laboratory work is not definitive - there is a gap to be bridged, by development work, between making a machine or process that functions in the laboratory and the product that is marketed in the real world. Infra-red is no exception, as an experience during one of his lectures shows.

He was speaking at the Institute of Electrical Engineers, and had set up equipment to demonstrate properties of infra-red waves. At the back of the lecture theatre, behind the audience, he had placed a scanner to beam music by infra-red to equipment at the front which would receive and play it. A member of the audience, considering the possible uses, asked: “But will the system work in fog?” “Oh, yes. For a million miles if required,” Max replied confidently. He switched on and dramatic Valkyrian music erupted from the loudspeakers. At that point someone in the audience blew cigar smoke in front of the scanner and the music stopped. Max simply carried on unperturbed. “He just ignored it,” Dickie Huxley recalls.

Max’s working and personal life were subject to many changes.   He married three times, having two daughters by his first wife and a son and adopted son with the second.  He talked little about his first two marriages but his third, to Isabel Badger in 1972, was for the most part a happy relationship of kindred souls that became a fulfilling working partnership.

There was a droll side to Max’s character, which those who knew him well glimpsed from time to time. It stemmed, perhaps, from his mother’s association with the theatre. He maintained an alter ego as Mr Toad, the suave man about town in top hat and tails of the kind once seen in the humorous magazine Punch. Max drew a number of cartoons in which he featured as Mr Toad and their address when he and Isabel lived at Hampton-on-Thames, near London, was Toad Cottage. 

 Toad1-5in.gif (19682 bytes)

..... more Toads.

For 10 years, from the early 1960s, he was the medical physics manager and chief research engineer for infra-red devices at an international company - Smiths Industries, at Cricklewood, north London, for which he travelled widely.  One of his projects here was a whole-body heat scanner - the Pyroscan - which measured infra-red radiation from the body to reveal inflammation of tissue by registering a temperature difference on the surface of the skin. This seemed to have enormous potential in quickly pointing, for example, to possible sites of cancer developing beneath the skin’s surface.

Infra-red is the part of the radiation spectrum between visible light and radio waves. It was discovered by the brilliant astronomer William Herschel in 1800 when he found, by measuring the heat given off by the light of the rainbow passed through a prism, that the greatest heat came from an area beyond the red area of the spectrum. The modern thermographic cameras used in military applications and in many industries, of which the Pyroscan was one, were all made possible by this key observation.

The Pyroscan system, which Max first developed as senior scientist in the laboratories of Kelvin and Hughes in the 1950s, was the first non-military thermographic camera to be developed outside the United States. It was the result of nearly two years’ mathematical study of the transmission of radiation through water droplets, carried out because the equipment was intended to see through fog. As Max said later: “The original apparatus was in the true tradition of British economy of means - even a broom handle being pressed into service as a crank arm!”

His hopes of developing a system for use in shipping, then in military aircraft as an alternative to conventional radar, were not realised but at Smiths Max was able to pursue the medical potential of thermography. In 1961 he began collaboration with Lloyd Williams, a specialist at Middlesex Hospital, and with a modified Pyroscan they obtained the first thermographs of breast cancer produced outside America.  Clinical trials using a new version of the Pyroscan began at the hospital in mid-1963 and the machine was developed and went into production. Twice during this period Max visited America to visit hospitals in pursuit of the research. One outcome eventually was a specialist book, Clinical Thermography (ref 2-1), written jointly with John D. Wallace, Research Professor of Paediatrics and Radiology at Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia.

But fate intervened in Max’s career in medical physics. He walked out of Smiths one lunchtime to buy something to eat and was knocked down by a hit-and-run driver. His injuries included a broken neck, for the second time.  While he was convalescing he had to wear a neck brace and was unable to travel for the company.  His three-year contract was not renewed, so the Pyroscan research was never finished.

It was during his period at Smiths that Max was invited to speak at the Royal Institution (RI), of which he was a member, on his research into infra-red waves.  The invitation was to give one of the celebrated Friday Evening Discourses at which top scientists explain their work to an audience of both their peers and lay people - as part of the institution’s aim of “creating new knowledge and incorporating awareness of contemporary science and technology into the fabric of culture and society”. Max and Isabel were both very familiar with the RI because he used the library facilities, with Isabel’s help, to aid his research.

Lecturing at the Royal Institution can be intimidating even for accomplished lecturers. The RI has existed continuously in the same premises since its foundation in 1799; its magnificent building in Albemarle Street, off Piccadilly, with its long facade of classical columns soaring to roof height, is little changed: inside are chandeliered rooms with stucco ceilings - reminders of the opulent private house it once was.  Eminent scientists stare down from prints and dark paintings hang on the walls. The RI is associated with many figures, such as Herschel and Humphry Davy, inventor of the miner's safety lamp. Michael Faraday, the great experimental scientist whose discovery of magnetic induction made today's electrical industries possible, worked there for several decades in his magnetic laboratory.

The Friday Evening Discourses have been given regularly since 1826. Max, like many before him and since, was to speak in the same steeply-tiered lecture theatre where Faraday demonstrated the first dynamo and the first electric motor. The date of his talk was March 8 1968 and the title: Seeing by Heat Waves.  Each Discourse is an event bound by tradition and for Max it was no different. Members and their guests - in evening dress - arrive and make their way upstairs to the library, where there is a small exhibition on the theme of the talk.  These days a string quartet plays in the downstairs foyer.

The audience has to be seated before 9pm and the two entrance doors behind the podium are closed.  At exactly 9’oclock a bell rings once and the doors are swung open, the speaker enters and immediately begins to deliver the lecture.  Demonstrations, projected slides, atomic models, and jokes, can follow in quick succession but by tradition the talk must finish precisely at the moment the bell rings for the second time at 10pm.   Sitting through one of these lectures, it seems that the warm applause at the end must be as much for the speaker’s skill in finishing on time as much as their knowledge and presentation of the subject. Afterwards, the audience files into adjoining rooms where plates of sandwiches and cake, tea and soft drinks are laid out on long tables.  Since the time is late the food is eaten with gusto, amid lively conversation. It is a very English event.

“Max was excited to give the talk. He rehearsed it several times,” Isabel remembers. He arranged his library exhibition and before the event itself they both joined Lord Fleck, president of the Royal Institution, for dinner.

The talk, given to an audience of 350, was a summary of the field of infra-red research and Max’s work with the Pyroscan. Among the demonstrations of thermographic imaging were three pictures, taken at 20-second intervals, showed a handprint fading on a surface. It was, Max explained, the lack of sufficiently sensitive detectors that delayed for more than 100 years the fulfilment of Herschel’s hope of visualising heat patterns. “The magnitude of the problem may be appreciated from the fact that a modern thermocouple is typically required to detect radiation which causes a temperature rise of only one millionth of a degree, with a resulting electrical output of less than a millivolt. In thermographic cameras like the Pyroscan the problem is exacerbated by the need to make temperature measurements in a thousandth of a second or less.”   “Max was excellent - word perfect,” Isabel recalls. “Though he was disappointed to finish two words behind the final bell.” Afterwards, Fleck congratulated him, saying: “Well done. In true Faraday style.”

Max published about 150 scientific papers on navigation, radiation physics and clinical psychology in the specialist journals (see Appendix 1). As his work became increasingly respected his reputation grew.  Among the professional bodies, he was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and Royal Society of Health, a Member of the Institute of Biology and the Institute of Physics, Fellow of the Institute of Electrical Engineers, and an honorary member of the British Society of Medical and Dental Hypnosis and many others.

In the 1960s, pursuing yet more interests, he wrote a book on exobiology - possible life on other planets - called Other Worlds than Ours, in which he was as at home considering the possibility of life on other galaxies as on Mars in our own solar system. With Delphine Davis  Max co-authored The Taming of the Thunderbolts, a book taking a close look at the curious natural phenomenon of ball lightning. Again, this book was as revealing about Max’s approach to science as about his subject. To make his point that orthodox thinking “materially hindered our understanding of an important branch of science”, he could not resist giving examples of how closed attitudes had been proved wrong in the past.  He pointed out, for instance, that the designer Isambard Kingdom Brunel had been ridiculed in the press when his paddle steamship Great Eastern was launched in 1858, and Dr Dionysius Lardner, in an address to the Royal Society in London, said: “Man might as well project a voyage to the moon as attempt to employ steam navigation across the stormy Atlantic Ocean.”

So Max was not deterred in the slightest to explore fields that more conventional scientists  would reject as without foundation. Finally, in 1969, he found a subject that was to hold his interest for the rest of his life and one for which his extraordinary background had prepared him well. Now began several years’ intensive research into altered mental states with Dr Ann Woolley-Hart, a medical researcher at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, in London.


References 2-1 Clinical Thermography. J D Wallace and C M Cade. CRC Press, Cleveland, Ohio, 1975