Nevill Francis Mott Biography

(Physicist Who Won the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physics for His Work on Electronic, Magnetic, and Disordered Systems)

Birthday: September 30, 1905 (Libra)

Born In: Leeds, England

Nevill Francis Mott was an English physicist who won a share of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1977 for his work on the magnetic and electrical properties of noncrystalline, or amorphous, semiconductors. He clarified the reasons why magnetic or amorphous materials can sometimes be metallic and sometimes insulating. Born to highly educated parents with scientific inclinations, he inherited his parents’ love for scientific enquiries and proceeded to study mathematics and theoretical physics at Clifton College, Bristol, and St. John's College, Cambridge. He went on to perform research in Cambridge under R.H. Fowler, in Copenhagen under Niels Bohr and in Göttingen under Max Born, before starting his career as a Lecturer in the Physics Department at the University of Manchester. After spending some years working in several institutions, he became Cavendish professor of experimental physics at the University of Cambridge, a position he held till his retirement. His early experiments focused on the theoretical analysis of collisions in gases and nuclear problems and later widened to cover solid-state physics including studies of metals and metal alloys, semiconductors, and photographic emulsions. Eventually his work on the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems, especially amorphous semiconductors earned him a share of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1977.
Quick Facts

British Celebrities Born In September

Also Known As: Sir Nevill Francis Mott

Died At Age: 90


Spouse/Ex-: Ruth Eleanor Horder

father: Charles Francis Mott

mother: Lilian Mary Reynolds

Physicists British Men

Died on: August 8, 1996

place of death: Milton Keynes, England

Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates in Physics

City: Leeds, England

More Facts

education: University Of Cambridge, St John's College, Cambridge

awards: Hughes Medal (1941)
Royal Medal (1953)
Copley Medal (1972)

A. A. Griffith Medal and Prize (1973)
Faraday Medal (1973)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1977)

Childhood & Early Life
Nevill Francis Mott was born on 30 September 1905, in Leeds, England, to Lilian Mary Reynolds and Charles Francis Mott. His father was Senior Science Master at Giggleswick School and his mother also taught mathematics at the School.
As a little boy, he was educated at home by his mother. He began his formal education at the age of ten and started attending Clifton College in Bristol. He then proceeded to St. John's College, Cambridge, where he studied mathematics and theoretical physics.
He began research under R.H. Fowler in Cambridge. He also researched under Niels Bohr in Copenhagen and Max Born in Göttingen.
Nevill Francis Mott was appointed a lecturer in the Physics Department at the University of Manchester in 1929. He stayed there for a year before returning to Cambridge as a fellow and lecturer of Gonville and Caius College in 1930.
In 1933, he became the Melville Wills Professor in Theoretical Physics at the University of Bristol. Having focused his initial research on the theoretical analysis of collisions in gases—notably the collision with spin flip of an electron against a hydrogen atom—he now became interested in the properties of metals and semiconductors as well.
At Bristol, he was deeply influenced by H. W. Skinner and H. Jones, and performed important works on the theory of transition metals, of rectification, hardness of alloys (with Nabarro) and of the photographic latent image (with Gurney).
His research in photographic emulsions led him to devise the theoretical description of the effect that light has on a photographic emulsion at the atomic level in 1938.
During the World War II, he spent a stint in London doing military research following which he became the Henry Overton Wills Professor of Physics and Director of the Henry Herbert Wills Physical Laboratory at Bristol in 1948. In this position he published several papers on low-temperature oxidation (with Cabrera) and the metal-insulator transition.
He returned to the University of Cambridge in 1954, taking up the position of the Cavendish professor of experimental physics. Additionally he served as Master of Gonville and Caius College from 1959 to 1966.
During the 1960s, he studied the electrical conduction in various metals to explore the conductivity potential of amorphous materials, which are so called because their atomic structures are irregular or unstructured. His work eventually led to the development of simpler and cheaper semiconductors as replacements for expensive crystalline semiconductors in many electronic switching and memory devices.
He formally retired from Cambridge in 1971 but remained active in research for the rest of his long life.
Some of the major books, he wrote are ‘The Theory of Atomic Collisions’ (with H.S.W. Massey), ‘Electronic Processes in Ionic Crystals’ (with R.W. Gurney) and ‘Electronic Processes in Non-Crystalline Materials’ (with E.A. Davis).
Major Works
He formulated what became known as the Mott problem in quantum mechanics: a paradox that illustrates some of the difficulties of understanding the nature of wave function collapse and measurement.
He proposed the theory of Mott transition, a metal-nonmetal transition in condensed matter. This transition is known to exist in various systems: mercury metal vapor-liquid, metal NH3 solutions, transition metal chalcogenides and transition metal oxides.
Awards & Achievements
Mott was knighted in 1962.
In 1972, he was awarded the Copley Medal "In recognition of his original contributions over a long period to atomic and solid state physics."
In 1973 he was given the Faraday Medal by the Institution of Engineering and Technology.
Nevill Francis Mott, Philip W. Anderson and J. H. Van Vleck, were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1977 "for their fundamental theoretical investigations of the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems."
Personal Life & Legacy
Nevill Francis Mott married Ruth Eleanor Horder in 1930. They had two daughters and three grandchildren.
He died on 8 August 1996 following a brief illness, at the age of 90.

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