Dr William Alfred Wooster

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Dr William Alfred Wooster - Crystallographer

Dr William Alfred Wooster (Peter to his friends) was born on 18th August 1903 in Islington, London, to parents Ernest Alfred Wooster and Rachel Johnson. He died in Cambridge on 12 April 1984.   Tree

His interest in crystallography began in 1921 when, as a freshman at Cambridge, he took his supervisor's advice and did mineralogy as his third subject. He graduated as a physicist in 1924 and completed his Ph.D. under Ernest Rutherford in 1927, studying the natural radioactivity of Radium B, C and E1. William joined the Department of Mineralogy and Petrology as a demonstrator in 1927 with responsibility for developing lectures and practical demonstrations on crystal physics. This earned him an annual salary of £125, although by supervising students it was possible to earn more.

In 1928 in Cambridge, he married Nora Anne Martin, and they had two sons. Nora was also a crystallographer and in 1930 received a mention in the local paper under "Success of Past Pupils". Nora also addressed an "International Womens Day" meeting in Bristol in 1948, where her views didn't meet with universal approval:


William became a lecturer in 1935 and throughout his career authored and co-authored many books on crystallography including, A Textbook on Crystal Physics (1938), Experimental Crystal Physics (1957) and Tensors and Group Theory for Physical Properties of Crystals (1973). A Google search reveals these and many more textbooks authored by William as well as letters to and from Sir Lawrence Bragg (1890-1971) detailing studies on the crystal structures of a variety of substances and demonstrations of X-ray crystallographic equipment at various exhibitions.

Prior to WW2 William and Nora were active in the Cambridge Scientists' Anti-War Group, with William addressing meetings in such places as Great Bardfield. They, together with fellow scientist Arthur Hughes, won a court case in which they were awarded one farthing in damages after leaflets they distributed at Duxford Air Show were wrongly confiscated by police and the case was noted as far afield as Lancashire.


During the war itself, William and Nora were initially engaged in a flurry of letters in the local papers, some examples of which are given below, discussing Russia's role in the war.


It may well have been their outspoken nature which led to William being arrested as a spy in the early stages of the war after the army cut down most of the trees in his and his neighbour's gardens to allow a clearer view of any approaching German tanks, and he decided to photograph the remaining trees in his own garden. However, common sense prevailed when, the arresting policeman was encouraged to telephone the Chief Constable who confirmed that "Dr Wooster is probably not a spy".

William was involved in the ARP effort in Cambridge, wisely speaking out against the complacency of thinking that Cambridge would not be bombed. He was also proposed, but not elected, as Deputy Head Warden for the West Chesterton ward. Later on in the war, he was on the "Brains Trust of Scientists" for war production which was urging the pooling of trade secrets to help the war effort.


William left his academic post in 1960 to concentrate on a company he and Nora formed in 1947. Their company, Crystal Structures Ltd. which made X-ray diffraction equipment and models of crystal structures still exists today.

The Wooster Four Circle Diffractometer (1964)3

DeJong-Wooster Rotation Retigraph (1947)3

The following exhibits are on display at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science14. One being an X-Ray powder diffraction camera used and possibly designed by William, the other being a model of silver phosphate by Crystal Structures Ltd.

The following sources have been used to write this article:

1. Personal Experiences of a Crystallographer. W.A. Wooster.

2. Obituary of W. A. Wooster, Journal of Applied Crystallography Volume 17, Part 6 (December 1984).

3. Crystal Structures

4. BBC WW2 People's War.

5. The National Archives.

6. Find My Past

7. The Befordshire Times and Independent

8. The Western Daily Press

9. The Lancashire Daily Post

10. The Essex Chronicle

11. The Cambridge Daily News

12. The Independent Press & Chronicle

13. The Lincolnshire Echo

14. Whipple Museum of the History of Science

  Page last updated

  22 March 2017