British Crystallographic Association
'Crystallography News'
December 2000

Dr H Megaw   Citation for Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science,
Queen's University, Belfast, Northern Ireland, July 7, 2000

Professor Ruth Lynden-Bell, School of Mathematics and Physics

Dr Helen Megaw is a crystallographer who is best known for her work determining the structure of ferroelectric crystals. She is a native of Northern Ireland who attended Queen's for a year before moving to get her degrees of BA and PhD from the University of Cambridge. She returned to Northern Ireland when she retired from the University of Cambridge in 1972.

It is difficult for us to imagine the scientific environment in the nineteen thirties. It was a time of depression with little money and few jobs. Science departments were much smaller and more intimate. X-ray crystallography was a new science which attracted a number of young women such as Dr Megaw who became distinguished scientists. In those pioneering days preparation of crystals and collection of data was more difficult and more skilled than it is today. Another big difference, which today's graduates may find hard to imagine, was that there were no computers and the tedious and detailed calculations which lead from the brightness of spots on a photographic plate to a three dimensional crystal structure were all done by hand. Dr Megaw was one of the pioneers in this field. She completed her PhD on the structure of ice in the early nineteen thirties. Then, after a couple of years' postdoctoral work in Vienna and Oxford, she spent seven years teaching in girls' schools in England and a year in an industrial research laboratory. After the second world war her career changed and she spent the rest of her working life in Universities, mainly in the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. She became a Fellow of her old college, Girton, where she acted as Director of Studies in Physical Sciences encouraging and guiding generation of young women scientists.

Her research work was concerned with ferroelectric crystals. You are all familiar with magnets which have two ends with opposite magnetic polarity. Ferroelectric crystals are the electric analogues with two ends with opposite electric polarity. As you can imagine they are important industrially. The source of the ferroelectricity lies in the arrangement of the atom in the crystals and this was determined by Dr Megaw for an important clas of ferroelectric crystals known as Perovskites. She then wrote a standard book on "Ferroelectricity in Crystals".

She also did pioneering work on disorder in crystals and its effect on the X-ray diffraction patterns. She was awarded the Roebling Medal of the Mineralogical Society of America in 1989 and has an Island in the Antarctic named after her in recognition of her work on ice.

Helen Megaw in 2000

 Dr Megaw, Queen's University wishes to recognise your contribution to science and the example that you have set to generations of young women and young men. I now call upon the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering to present Helen Megaw for the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.