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Records of Heriot-Watt University

Heriot-Watt University Archive, Records Management and Museum Service

Papers of Robert Allan Smith

Sub-fonds Summary

Reference Code

GB 0582 HWU 1-19



Extent and medium of the unit of description

2.28 metres

(19 boxes)

Existence and Location of Originals

This material is original.

Name of creator

Smith | Robert Allan | 1909-1980 | principal of Heriot-Watt University

Biographical History

Biographical History

Robert Allan Smith was Principal of Heriot-Watt University from 1968 until his retirement in 1974. He oversaw the key early phase of the planning to move of the University from the centre of Edinburgh to a new campus at Riccarton six miles west of the city centre, the expansion of courses and departments, the establishment of the first commercial Research Park at Riccarton and of an Institute of Offshore Engineering and the expansion of facilities for students. His scientific interests lay in the areas of radar and electronics, atomic physics, solid state physics especially semi conductors and infra-red spectroscopy.

He showed a flair for mathematics while at school in Kelso and in 1930 gained an MA with first class honours in mathematics and physics from the University of Edinburgh. He then studied at Cambridge where he obtained his BA degree in 1932 and was the winner of the Mayhew prize.

He then spent 3 years undertaking research at the Cavendish Laboratory on atomic collisions and collaborated with Edward TC Shire in a study into symmetry fluctuations in the angular distribution of monochromatic HE+ ions scattered in HE, and with Sir Harrie Stewart Wilson Massey into collisions of positive ions in gases and later into negative ions. He was awarded his PhD in 1935.

He was Carnegie Teaching Fellow at the University of St Andrews from 1935 until 1939 when he became lecturer in mathematics at the University of Reading. During the war he worked for the Telecommunications Research Establishment on the development of radar and in 1945 he became chair of the physics department in the Telecommunications Research Establishment. He left government service in 1961 to become professor of physics at the University of Sheffield and a year later left to become professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the first director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Centre of Materials Science and Engineering. He returned to the Great Britain in 1968 to take up the post of Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University.

His publications include Radio Aids to Navigation, (1947), Semiconductors, (1959), Wave Mechanics of Cristalline Solids, (1961) and Aerials for Meter and Decimeter Measurements of Infra-red Radiation, (1968).

Robert Allan Smith was awarded the CBE in 1960 and Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1962. He was also a fellow of the London Physical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Science, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Scottish Society of the Arts.

Scope and Content

Scope and Content

The papers of Robert Allan Smith consist of:

  • personal correspondence, including congratulatory letters on being awarded the CBE
  • official and personal correspondence concerning his appointment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology theses, reports and information booklets (1964-1974)
  • correspondence with the Scottish Union of Students
  • correspondence, reports and papers relating to: The University Grants Committee, The Executive Committee of The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland and The Scottish Universitys' Principal's Meetings
  • papers of the University of Strathclyde working party conference on the post Fulton Home Civil Service
  • correspondence and seminar papers relating to: The Underwater Technology Group and the Management Board of the Institute of Offshore Engineering
  • papers relating to HK Salvesen
  • papers relating to North Sea oil (1948-1976)
  • general data regarding materials research
  • papers concerning nominations for honorary graduates (1968-1974)
  • correspondence, papers and reports relating to the Merchant Company Education Board and George Watson's Ladies' College
  • material relating to the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the School of Arts
  • historical notes relating to Heriot-Watt College
  • correspondence with the publishers, John Wiley & Sons Ltd
  • press clippings concerning higher education
  • file concerning careers advisory information
  • guidelines on consultancy and similar external work
  • preparatory research materials and final biography of Robert Allan Smith (1970-1980)
  • papers relating to official engagements as Principal of Heriot-Watt University (1958-1974)
  • details relating to ANGUS
  • papers relating to Unilink
  • addresses and talks of Robert Allan Smith (1920s-1974)
  • undergraduate lecture notes on: electricity, hydro dynamics, geometry, elementary quantum theory, optics, pure mathematics, philosophy and advanced calculus and analysis (1927-c1935)
  • Robert Allan Smith's thesis for PhD degree
  • certificates from the Royal Society of London and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1930's-1964)




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