The origins – a note by Brian J Ford, with additional material from John Dickins
Sir John Cockcroft, Jacksonian Professor of Physics in Cambridge, who shared a Nobel Prize for his work on disintegrating lithium by proton bombardment, was CSAR's founding president in 1964. Cockcroft was Master of Churchill, where our meetings are held. With others, he founded the Society, indeed a file still exists in the Churchill College archives containing Sir John Cockcroft's correspondence concerning SAR. The earliest item is the programme card for our first year of existence, 1964. This shows the officers to be:

  • Sir John Cockcroft OM, Chairman
  • Prof. A H Cottrell, Vice Chairman
  • Dr Donald Wilhelm, Secretary
  • Prof. W I B Beveridge, Senior Treasurer, and a board of advisors of 24 people

The card says: “All the above were available to guide members in the development, promotion and application of their ideas.” Meetings were held in the Music Room of Clare College, the annual subscription was 5/- (five shillings, now 25p). No corporate membership is mentioned.

A formal printed letter dated 16th November 1964 was “sent to a wide variety of industries in East Anglia”. This offered consultation on particular problems, the details of which were to be completed on a form sent with the letter. It said that: “Haverhill Technical Centre will endeavour to put you in touch with the Advisory Services of SAR” and “The advisory Panel of SAR includes experts in most spheres of Science and Technology”. A lecture on 26th January 1965 was held at the Rose & Crown Hotel in Haverhill and it seems that there was a relationship with the Haverhill Technical Centre.

The programme card for Michaelmas 1966 shows the subscription still at 5/- and now corporate membership is available at an annual cost of 2 guineas (now £2.10).

A Council meeting minuted on 1st May 1967 records that there were 26 ordinary members. Lecture attendance ranged from 6 to 50. These minutes record that the ‘Technological Clinic’ should be recognised as defunct. Interestingly, by this time there were two research students on the committee/council. Sadly, Sir John Cockcroft died on 22nd September 1967.

After starting well in the sixties, the SAR failed to gain momentum and came close to closing down when the members of the committee went their separate ways. Peter Russell Eggitt recalls that several went abroad, one to the USA, leaving a sole committee member – the Canadian first secretary to SAR, Donald Wilhelm. At the time the membership was nominal. There was no concept of Corporate Members, and little involvement from the worlds of industry or commerce.

Donald Wilhelm met with Peter Russell Eggitt and outlined his ideas for the future. Wilhelm felt that there was a growing need to build bridges between the University and industry, and believed that the SAR could play a crucial part in the process. He had also been to see Fred Keys, Company Secretary of the Pye company. As a result, there were several meetings of a small steering committee – including representatives from industry – and from this arose the first Council in 1969. Peter Russell Eggitt had the job of recruiting the first of our Corporate Members by writing to many companies in Cambridgeshire, including Peterborough.

The meeting that led to the re-establishment of the SAR, took place in an office in one of the large old houses in Station Road in the Autumn of 1969. Fred Keys drew up the Constitution in consultation with the new Council, and it was approved by Churchill College. Peter Threlfall, Managing Director of Pye in Cambridge, was elected President and Ms Sylvia McKay, who was Secretary to the Directors of the The Wolfson Industrial Unit at the time, recalls that the membership was largely held together by students from Pembroke College. Among the early visits members enjoyed were tours of Cambridge University Press, the Welding Institute and the Babraham Institute.

The re-launched SAR was firmly established with programmes of lectures, visits and social events by its first two Organising Secretaries, Roy Hawkins, deputy to Donald Welbourn at the Wolfson Unit, and John Dickins, a member of Peter Russell Eggitt’s staff. Roy Hawkins served for four years from 1973/74 to 1976/77 when he left the University to join PA Consultants. John Dickins served for five years from 1977/78 to 1981/82 and continued on Council until 1992. During this period, all the administration (mailing lists, address updates, accounts, etc) was transferred to the Wolfson Unit where they were handled by Ms McKay until the beginning of 1998.

John Dickins recalls that some early meetings of Council were held in a Pye property used to accommodate Peter Thorneycroft on his visits as Chairman of the Company, when members would be served gin and tonic by the resident butler.

On 12th June 1975 a one-day conference was held on fish farming. Peter Russell Eggitt recalls obtaining speakers from Unilever Research, the White Fish Authority, Fish Farm Development and the Guinness Salmon Research Station in Ireland (which was then run by one of his cousins). Spillers paid the expenses for those who spoke at the Fish Farming function. Peter also chaired the sub-committee that organised the GM Crops symposium held in 2002, this time with financial sponsorship from Monsanto.

CSAR's first website was set up in 1996. It was one of the first society websites in Cambridge and many others were encouraged to follow that example. In 2001 the website was upgraded by Nigel and Eileen Bennee and updated single-handedly by Nigel for 15 years. In 2016 the website was expanded, and is now run by a team of people.

It was decided, on the suggestion of the Honorary Treasurer Robin Bligh, that as the underlying aim of CSAR is educational, that charitable status could be sought, bringing benefits to the profile of CSAR, and also financial benefits through tax recovery. It was also decided after review to invest our balance in approved, safe funds rather than leave them in a bank account so as to achieve annual dividends.

In 2011 there was a major focus on the potential of the growing number of PhD students and post-doc members of the University and of high-tech companies. Through the President, David Adamson, a number of initiatives were founded. A collaboration with BluSci, a science magazine run by the university, was set up to mutual benefit. Our liaison with the Philosophical Society was strengthened and a bursary fund was set to help selected PhD students. From the start, winners each year have had a full meeting with the University VC, and from the second year of the programme each winner – there were six that year – has given a short talk before the main lecture at CSAR meetings; they also take part in liaison with local schools, speaking of their research and encouraging school students. That has further benefit in encouraging school students, parents and staff to attend CSAR meetings; a category of school membership was introduced.

The school membership aims to help students, particularly A-level students, by showing them how research applies to and fits in with the real world. As well as teachers or students attending lectures and visits, schools can also ask that bursary award winners come to the school to talk about their work and how they got to that position – being only a few years older than A-level students means they connect more easily.

It was also in this period we started liaison and joint meetings with Cambridge University’s Science Week and Festival of Ideas Week. A debate was added to the yearly programme, taking us from 12 to 15 meetings per year, and the number of visits increased to three a year.

Programme cards exist from 1973, and the Council in that year was as follows:

  • Mr P M Threlfall – (Pye) President
  • Mr D B Welbourn – (Wolfson Unit) Vice-President
  • Dr R B Hawkins – (Wolfson Unit) Organising Secretary
  • Mr F Keys – (Pye) Corporate Secretary
  • Prof. E V Danckwerts – Dept. of Chemical Engineering
  • Dr E F Edson – (Fisons)
  • Prof. R W K Honeycombe – Dept. of Metallurgy
  • Dr W C Nixon – Dept. of Engineering
  • Dr P W Russell Eggitt – (Spillers)
  • Dr R Weck – (Welding Institute)


7th Dec 2023

Dr. Carol Ibe (2019 CSAR Student Award winner )

2nd Sep 2023

Smart rugby ball used in Six Nations 2023