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Kit's University Education

Kit Milner PhD graduation, Cambridge, 1936. Courtesy, Milner family.

"….keep Milner from making too many gadgets."
Pyotr Kapitza

In 1930 Kit won an entrance scholarship to St John’s College Cambridge, first reading Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics and then majoring in Physics in 1933. He began his Ph. D. as the Hutchinson Research Student and despite being only 21, won admittance to the famous Cavendish Laboratory directed by Lord Rutherford FRS (Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, 1908). He worked in the new Royal Society Mond Laboratory, next door to the Cavendish, that had been built for the eminent Russian physicist, Pyotr Leonidovitch Kapitza (Nobel Laureate in Physics, 1978). Kit considered himself lucky to get in: Kapitza told him, “When we got this place built, Milner, I didn’t think I’d be taking on mere boys like you!” Nevertheless Kit liked and admired the scientist immensely, saying he was the best supervisor a student could have, visiting daily.

(Photo: PhD graduation, Cambridge, 1936.
Courtesy, Milner family.)

His fellow students in the Mond were David Shoenberg (later FRS and Director of the Cavendish) and the Polish physicist, Henryk Niewodniczanski (who later gave his name to a research institute at the famous Jagellonian University in Krakow). In 1934, their supervisor Kapitza was detained in Russia after his annual visit home, so Kit was supervised first by Sir John Cockroft (Nobel Laureate in Physics, 1951 and a kindly man) and then alarmingly by Lord Rutherford himself, the fearsome Cavendish Director (Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, 1908. His thesis dealt with the influence of low temperatures on the magneto-resistance effect in conductors: since this was Kapitza’s interest rather than the area that Kit had wanted to pursue (magnetism and low temperatures), he took some pleasure in roundly disproving the great man’s theory!

Photo taken outside the Mond Lab by David Shoenberg (later Director of the Cavendish) who was the fourth of Kapitza’s Mond lab students. From left, Boorse, Niewodniczanski and Kit.

Photo taken outside the Mond Lab by David Shoenberg (later Director of the Cavendish) who was the fourth of Kapitza’s Mond lab students. From left, Boorse, Niewodniczanski and Kit.

Milner’s enthusiasm for scientific equipment was put to good effect when he was commissioned by Cockcroft to source and replicate Kapitza’s equipment to send back to the new Kapitza Institute established in Russia. This involved the enjoyable task of visiting industrial labs across the country. Concerned that his student’s zeal and fascination with equipment, might prevent him from progressing his actual thesis, Kapitza wrote to Rutherford urging him to ‘keep Milner from making too many gadgets’.

Kit Milner at his bench in the Royal Society Mond Laboratory, Cambridge, c1935. Even though the lab was brand-new, conditions were cramped. Courtesy, Milner family.

Kit Milner at his bench in the Royal Society Mond Laboratory, Cambridge, c1935. Even though the lab was brand-new, conditions were cramped.
Courtesy, Milner family.

Early Science Exhibition & Kit Milner

This exhibit extends to only some of the highlights that offer an insight into the many dimensions of this remarkable man’s life and attempts to portray something of their inseparability. He was passionate about many things including his science, his family and his faith; and this, added to his impish sense of humour and inquisitiveness, set him apart from many others

The exhibit covers details of his: