Emeritus Professor Lou Davies was an exceptionally tall man who literally stood out in any group of people. This physical characteristic symbolized qualities that made him stand out in many other ways and left a lasting memory among the huge range of people who knew him. Though his professional eminence led to his being widely admired, his personal qualities meant that he is remembered not just with respect but also with affection. These qualities included an unfailing courtesy and friendliness. Even people who did not know him well, and who might have been daunted by his reputation, found him easy to talk to. He showed interest in everyone he met and in virtually any topic of conversation. Those who knew him better will also remember his prodigious note-taking. Whether in a meeting or a private conversation, he had his pen and pad in his hand. This created the impression, at least, that what he was hearing was important enough to record. Whether this was always the case is open to question!
Lou was a scientist, researcher and inventor who was equally at home in the laboratory, the lecture theatre, the board room, the corridors of power and the farm. His career produced bridges between industry and academia. He had a lasting influence on Australian technology and on the careers of other scientists and engineers. His death in Sydney on 28 September 2001, through preceded by a period of serious illness, saw the passing of a man of great fitness and energy. Even in his seventies, he set a pace that would have done credit to a much younger man.
Lou was born in Sydney on 27 August 1923, the son of Louis Walter and Madge Davies of Lindfield, New South Wales. The family soon moved to Aberdeen in the Hunter Valley and Lou's primary education was at the three-teacher local school in Aberdeen. There he was said to be already showing a talent for mathematics and science. His secondary education started at Muswellbrook Rural School, then at Maitland High School. But the final four years were at the Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore), where his mathematical talents flourished under the teaching of the School's renowned Headmaster, L.C. Robson. Lou later served as a member of the School Council for 23 years and as its Chairman for four years.
Lou entered the University of Sydney in 1941 as a Science and Engineering student, but his student life was soon re-directed to the war effort. He joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 1942, trained at Cootamundra, Evans Head, Bairnsdale, Sale and Parkes, and joined 1 Squadron in Darwin as a navigator. He flew fifty-two operational sorties in Beauforts, plus a number of operations in Dakotas to the north of Australia.
Lou had known June Fleming of 'Kelvinside', near Aberdeen, since the age of 12. Though their paths did not cross often during school days and the war, they married on 27 September 1945. (June had been an Army driver at Victoria Barracks). The end of the war also brought Lou back to the University of Sydney, from which he graduated with his BSc in 1948. In fact, he had continued his studies during the war through the University's external studies programme and sat the Mathematics II examination in a tent in a coconut plantation on the equator! He remembered receiving a Credit for that subject. Lou was also an athlete of some note. He had rowed at school, but at university he competed in what was then called the hop-step-and-jump (now known as the triple jump), with considerable success. The combination of his excellent academic results, his athletic prowess and his war service led to the award of the Rhodes Scholarship for New South Wales in 1948.
Lou's military service left a legacy that always remained with him. He stood erect and did not stoop. Though, when talking to someone much shorter, he would sometimes incline his head to one side. When he greeted someone, there was a subtle 'coming to attention' and the faint clicking of heels!
The Rhodes Scholarship took Lou and June to Oxford, where he worked at the famous Clarendon Laboratory towards his DPhil degree. His research was in plasma physics, under the supervision of Dr Heinrich Kuhn. A major goal of such research was and is the containment of plasmas for controlled nuclear fusion. As Lou remarked many years later, it still remains an intractable problem, but his own work was scientifically satisfying and led to the award of the DPhil in 1951 [1, 2, 3]. His later career did not continue with plasma research, though his earliest work at CSIRO had a link with his doctoral research. But, as happens with many research students, the physical insights and skills he acquired were applied to new and different problems during his professional career. While at Oxford, he also exercized his skills as a triple-jumper and competed with the University teams in Wales, Dublin, Greece and the USA.
Lou and June's first son was born during their time at Oxford and was named Louis Walter, as were his father and grandfather. The potential for confusion was solved by nicknames. Lou, the father, was known as Bill, particularly in the earlier part of his life. His friends therefore became differentiated in later life. Those who had known him more than fifty years called him Bill. The newer friends called him Lou. Lou, the son, was called Sandy! Their other two children, Fiona and Gordon, were born after Lou and June returned to Australia.
In 1951, Lou and June returned to Sydney, where he was appointed a Research Officer at the CSIRO Division of Radiophysics, then on its way to achieving a world reputation for radio-astronomy. His initial work applied his plasma knowledge to studying microwave noise from the sun , but the Division Chief, Dr Taffy Bowen, later suggested that Lou shift his attention to the 'newfangled transistor'.
The transistor was invented at the Bell Telephone Laboratories, just at the time Lou started his studies at Oxford. It turned out to be one of the most important engineering inventions of the twentieth century and resulted in the award of the Nobel Prize to William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain. Bowen sent Lou to Bell Labs for what was planned as a two-week visit in 1953. During his visit he spent time with the inventors of the transistor and started to build up contacts with other laboratories in the US, including at General Electric. The planned two weeks became six. He became fascinated with the refining of germanium, which was then the principal material for making transistors and the material in which the first transistor was made. In 1954, with Dr Brian Cooper, he set up a section in CSIRO that was to pioneer the manufacture of transistors in Australia [5, 7, 8]. In 1956, Lou also spent some months in New Delhi as a UNESCO Technical Expert. There, he worked, together with other overseas scientists, with the Indian National Physical Laboratory, to foster the growth of local expertise in semiconductor technologies .
Lou was awarded a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship in 1958, which allowed him to return to Bell Labs and work for twelve months on semiconductor physics. The Bell Telephone Laboratories, with a staff of 15,000, represented one of the most powerful forces for innovation in electronics and telecommunications at the time. Lou joined a basic research group at Murray Hill which itself had a research staff of 150. His bibliography shows a large number of publications on zone-refining and semiconductor devices, dating from this time [9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15]. Zone refining became a key process for achieving the required levels of purity in semiconductor materials. The physics of what happens during this process is complex and requires special mathematics (confluent hypergeometric functions) to describe it. On looking back years later, Lou regarded his research into zone refining as one of his most rewarding mathematical and scientific achievements. Among the publications from that era was a book on the transistor , co-authored with Brian Cooper and published by CSIRO, which was possibly the first book in the world on this topic.
Six years after the semiconductor laboratory was established at CSIRO, Lou began an involvement with Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Ltd (AWA), that was to continue for 35 years. This was to be followed, five years later, by a joint appointment with the University of New South Wales and meant that, for the greater part of his professional life, Lou was pursuing two parallel careers.
AWA was the largest Australian-owned electronics company and its Chairman, Sir Lionel Hooke, approached Lou to join the company and lead it into the semiconductor era. He was appointed Chief Physicist in 1960. At that time it was almost unheard of for a scientist to leave the special environment of CSIRO to work in industry. The fact that Lou did says something about his creative nature, which, in turn, enabled him to build some pioneering links between sectors of the economy. AWA already had a Research Laboratory (which Lou was to head some years later) and a strong history of applied research in electronics. Lou's task was to establish a new Physical Laboratory, to focus on semiconductors and other areas in applied physics. The Laboratory that he headed was set up in AWA's Rydalmere plant, which manufactured vacuum tubes for radio use and television picture tubes. In an area adjacent to the Laboratory, the company had also set up a transistor manufacturing operation, which was able to make extensive use of the knowledge Lou had developed over the previous six years.
The Physical Laboratory commenced a productive twelve-year period of research and invention. Lou put together a small group of scientists which, under his leadership, showed great foresight into what would become some mainstream technologies in electronics and telecommunications. Notable amongst these was the Laboratory's work on surface acoustic wave devices [37, 47], electrets [23, 26, 34, 41], photovoltaics [51, 52, 53, 54, 55] and optical fibres. Surface acoustic wave device research was largely carried out by Dr Martin Lawrence. These are now a key component of every television receiver and radar system. Electrets, from which permanently polarized capacitor microphones are made, are now found in every telephone and in many other acoustic systems. The charged insulator layer in an electret is normally made from a polymer such as teflon. As an alternative, Lou's colleagues Dr Peter Chudleigh and Dr Richard Collins experimented with anodic oxides grown on aluminium. Though these did work as electrets, a more effective result came from a novel way of polarising FEP teflon that Chudleigh and Collins developed.
Optical fibres have revolutionized land-based telecommunications and have become the most commercially important of the many ideas on which the laboratory worked. Their earlier experiments used liquid-core fibres. Though this was a creative solution to the transmission losses in fibre materials, practical problems led the group to solid-core fibres, and Dr Don Nicol achieved notable results with fibre fabrication and cladding. Because of commercial sensitivities, the optical fibre work led to patent applications, but not publications.
Photovoltaics have become one of the important technologies in the generation of renewable energy. The laboratory identified their potential at an early stage, but the most important developments occurred after Lou's appointment to the University of New South Wales.
Along with the above innovations, research was carried out into other semiconductor effects and devices, such as magnetic and hot electron phenomena. This work led to publications [10, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, 27, 30, 31, 32, 36, 38] but was not taken further into product development. In addition, Lou published a number of educational and review papers during that time [28, 29, 42, 43, 44]. Regrettably and for reasons given later, AWA was not able to exploit the full potential of many of the Laboratory's innovations, though it did carry forward its optical fibre expertise by forming a joint venture with Corning (USA), which became Optical Wave Guides (Aust).
The twelve-year life of the Physical Laboratory was also one of intense patenting activity. At the end of this article is a list of 46 patent applications that Lou filed (some with co-inventors), that almost all came from this period. This deserves some special comment. Obviously it reflects the creativity of the small group of researchers operating under his leadership, but it was also driven by the company. AWA had licensing agreements with a number of overseas companies, including RCA, Telefunken and Marconi. Since licensing involves the exchange of or payment for intellectual property, AWA was able to strengthen its negotiating position in accordance with the size of its patent portfolio. The Physical Laboratory thus made a direct contribution to the company's commercial negotiations.
Lou was loyal to and supportive of his group of co-workers and paid close attention to the growth of their careers. Later, Richard Collins became Professor of Applied Physics at the University of Sydney and Chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). Don Nicol went on to become Director of R&D at the Overseas Telecommunications Commission and, after this was taken over by Telstra, held senior R&D positions with Telstra.
At the time Lou joined AWA, the first integrated circuit had just been demonstrated and was to appear in a more practical form in 1961. Within four years of that event, the company set up an experimental integrated circuit manufacturing facility next-door to the Physical Laboratory, drawing again on their knowledge. In 1967, the first working integrated circuit was produced and the facility commenced commercial operations. Fifteen years later, as a result of management changes in the early 1980s, Lou was appointed General Manager of AWA Microelectronics.
In 1965, a new opportunity and challenge emerged which, as mentioned, was to expand Lou's influence on research and technology and to launch a dual career. Through an agreement between AWA's Chairman, Sir Lionel Hooke, and Sir Philip Baxter, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales, he was appointed Visiting Professor at the University of New South Wales for two days a week and retained the position of Chief Physicist at AWA for three days a week. Though very demanding, the dual appointment placed Lou in a position which was rare in Australian experience and which continued to be supported by both organizations. Baxter's successor, Sir Rupert Myers, paid particular attention to ensuring that the arrangement was effective.
At the University of New South Wales, Lou established the Department of Solid State Electronics within the School of Electrical Engineering, and remained its Head until 1982. He was responsible for pioneering semiconductor research there and, as a result, the University became the strongest centre in the country for work in silicon devices and integrated circuit technology. In parallel with publications from the Physical Laboratory, Lou and his colleagues at the University also produced many research and teaching publications [42, 43, 44, 45, 48, 55, 56, 58, 62]. He encouraged the growth of optical fibre research in the School, arranging for the transfer of AWA's fibre-drawing equipment, and a major research activity grew under the leadership of Professor Pak Chu. In 1968 Lou spent a semester as Visiting Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University. This Department was eminent in the field of semiconductor and integrated circuit technology and one of the centres from which the 'Silicon Valley' phenomenon grew.
Lou's loyalty and support for his AWA colleagues was mirrored in his support for his postgraduate students, of whom two, Hiroaki Morisaki and Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom, went on to distinguished careers. Sitthichai returned to Thailand where, a few years later, he founded and became President of a new private university, the Mahanakorn University of Technology. Thanks to his association with Lou, Sitthichai built strong links with the University of New South Wales as well as with Imperial College, London and elevated his institution to one that is widely respected.
The strength of the University of New South Wales in semiconductors was recognized by a grant under the new Commonwealth Centres of Excellence programme in 1982. A Joint Research Centre was formed between the University and RMIT. Graham Rigby left his position with AWA Microelectronics to become its Director and took over Lou's position as Head of the Solid State Electronics Department. During the nine years of the Centre's operation, it must be said that the greatest success was achieved by the Photovoltaics Research Group under the leadership of Professor Martin Green. So Lou's original decision to promote photovoltaics and his support for Green's early work resulted in a research group with a major reputation around the world. He also arranged for AWA to donate one of Green's first vacuum systems.
Ten years before the events described above, there was an upheaval at AWA that had both negative and positive effects on what Lou was trying to achieve. In 1972, the newly elected Whitlam Government announced a sudden and drastic reduction in the import tariff regime that provided protection to many Australian manufacturers. AWA was very strongly affected by this decision, though its impact varied across the Company. Activities with a strong service component and those involving large systems engineering were less affected than the pure manufacturing activities. Among the latter, electronic components were particularly vulnerable and the Company began closing down such operations, including transistor manufacturing. (The microelectronics operation was less vulnerable, because its products were custom-designed for specialized markets.) The Physical Laboratory was strongly associated with component manufacturing and it suffered a similar fate.
The upheaval, though, placed Lou in a position of broader responsibilities. In 1972, he was appointed Chief Scientist of AWA. His predecessor, Dr Jim Rudd, had died six months earlier and Lou took up a position, which on the one hand had a long and honourable history, and, on the other, increased even further the demands on his time. He relocated some elements of the former Physical Laboratory from Rydalmere to his new base at the North Ryde plant. This preserved the optical fibre expertise, but many other activities were terminated. Lou's broader responsibilities also stimulated him to apply his physical insights into new areas including reliability physics, hazard analysis and safety engineering [57, 59, 60]. By the 1980s, though, changes in AWA's commercial activities and priorities led to reduced support for the Research Laboratories and Lou's appointment as General Manager of AWA Microelectronics became his last executive position in the company. He was appointed to the Board of AWA Ltd in 1987 and remained a Director until 1995.
Though the above activities would constitute more than a full career, Lou became involved in many others on a part-time or voluntary basis.
He was a Foundation Member of the Australian Science and Technology Council (ASTEC). The formation of this council was notable as an act of recognition by the Australian Government of the importance of having an expert and independent source of policy advice in science and technology matters. But its establishment was marked by a false start or two. The McMahon Government, in April 1972, formed an Advisory Committee on Science and Technology, which met only a few times and was disbanded before the end of that year. Then, at the beginning of 1975, Cabinet took a decision to establish ASTEC, with Sir Louis Matheson as Chairman and with Lou as one of a group of eminent scientists and industrialists as its members. ASTEC started work, but with the change of government later that year, found itself in an uncertain relationship with the new Fraser Government. Early in 1976, the Government re-named the same council as the 'interim council' and asked a small advisory group to recommend what to do. As a result, ASTEC was formally re-established in June 1976, with a stronger mandate and the same membership it had in 1975. Lou served on ASTEC for eight years.
He was a foundation member of the Australian Industrial Research Group. An initiative of that association of research directors led to the formation of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences (now the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering). The eminence of Lou's reputation in science and technology led to his election as a Foundation Fellow of the new Academy in 1975 and, in the following year, as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.
Lou was, at various times during this period, elected also to the Fellowship of the Institution of Engineers (Australia), the Australian Institute of Physics and the Institution of Radio and Electronic Engineers. In 1978 he was appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia and in 1981, was elected a Fellow of the Institution of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (USA), the largest Institution of its kind in the world. The citation for this last honour made particular reference to his early work on zone-refining – an achievement of which he was always particularly proud.
Lou served the Australian Academy of Science as a member of its Solar Energy Committee and as a member of Council from 1983 to 1986. He was a member of the Council of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, its Vice-President for two years and a member of two specialist committees of which one (the Espie Committee) had an important influence on Australia's subsequent industrial R&D activities. He was a member of the Council of the National Association of Testing Authorities, of the Graduate Careers Council of Australia, of the New South Wales Higher Education Board and the International Science and Technology Policy Advisory Committee of the Commonwealth Department of Science. These activities reflected Lou's commitment to a broader range of issues than solid-state physics. He was passionate about good education, the support for research and development in both the public and the private sector, and the effective transfer of knowledge from one sector to the other [61, 63, 64].
The complexity of Lou's professional life poses the question of whether he also had a private and family life. He certainly did. June expressed amazement herself at how he had time to be a good husband and father as well. The way she said this demonstrated how devoted to each other they were. Their capacious house at Roseville was not only the hub of the family, but also the setting for dinner parties enjoyed by a wide variety of their friends. It is true that when Lou was travelling a lot, June had to be mother and father. But when he returned, they did things together, whether it was time at their beach house or the pursuit of their common love of music and theatre. They supported several theatre groups in Sydney, were regular opera-goers and also supported the resident music ensembles at the University of New South Wales. One of the benefits of growing older, June remarked, was that they could devote more time to these activities.
Lou was also a member and sometime President of The Australian Club. This association led to an activity that was characteristic of Lou's creative mind. In the 1990s he developed a strong interest in the sealing of wine corks – a widely recognized and persistent problem. Lou had some new ideas and was considering applying for patents. While this might seem to have little relationship to his professional activities, he was, in fact, Chairman of the Australian Club's Wine Committee for many years and had first-hand knowledge of the problem. Rather than accepting the problem and continuing to enjoy his position, he decided to do something about it!
In the late 1980s, Lou's management activities expanded in new directions. He was appointed to the Board of Ludowici & Son Ltd, which produces rubber and synthetic products for industrial seals and materials handling and also is involved in paper recycling. He later became Chairman. He joined the boards of Radio 2CH Pty Ltd, Alsafe Safety Industries Pty Ltd (workplace protective clothing) and the Australian Caption Centre (television subtitles for hearing-impaired viewers). His research and other scholarly activities resulted in the publication of three books and more than sixty technical papers, and the filing of approximately fifty patent applications.
During the later part of his career, he and June bought a grazing property near Picton, New South Wales and they moved there from Roseville in 1986. He then applied his scientific mind to farm management, adopting new technologies, but still commuted regularly to Sydney for business activities and visits to the University Library and Patent Department. Among other activities related to his new life, he became actively involved with the Mount Annan Botanic Gardens and with an experiment being carried out by the Environmental Protection Authority to monitor the effects of injecting sewage sludge into grazing pastures. He and June set aside 15 hectares of their property to take part in this assessment.
When remembering this remarkable man, it is clear that what he did reflected much more than his intellect, creativity and energy. He made friends with a wide range of people, who were charmed by his never-failing courtesy and generosity. They knew that his wisdom and judgement were to be trusted. Professor Lou Davies is survived by his mother (age 103), his wife June, their daughter Fiona, two sons Sandy and Gordon, and five grandchildren.
This memoir was originally published in Historical Records of Australian Science, vol.14, no.4, 2003. It was written by Emeritus Professor Graham A. Rigby, School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications, University of New South Wales, Australia.
I am grateful for information provided by Professor Richard Collins, Mr Gordon Davies, Mrs June Davies, Professor Sir Rupert Myers and an interview conducted by Professor David Craig on behalf of the Australian Academy of Science.
(Note that the following patents were assigned to AWA Ltd. The Australian Patent No. or provisional No. is quoted, although some were also filed overseas)
© 2023 Australian Academy of Science