J. D. Bernal

Life
1901-1971; [John Desmond Bernal; “the Sage”]; b. Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, son of affluent Catholic farmer and an American mother; ed. locally in Catholic and Protestant schools, and after at Stonyhurst and Bedford; Cambridge, where he became a convinced Marxist and communist; pioneered x-ray crystallography diffraction at Royal Institute with Sir William [H.] Bragg, his doctoral supervisor; appt. to lectureship in crystallography in Cavendish Laboratory, 1927; determined shape of colestrol molecule and explored X-ray diffraction patterns of crystals of proteins and viruses; issued Social Function of Science (1939); appt. Prof. of Physics at Birbeck (UL), 1939; co-opted by Lord Cherwell to conduct morale report on blitz methods, selecting Birmingham and Hull; reported no adverse morale effected by pre-empted by Cherwell’s contrary interpretation, inspiring in the fire-bombing campaign on German cities; involved in D-Day planning, specifically with inferences about gradients on Normandy beaches derived from aerial evidence; praised by Mountbatten for generosity of spirit; active member of numerous scientific and political organisations; adopted Communist stance during Cold War; participated with with JBS Haldane and Hyman Levy in the Lysenko debates in the Engels Society; noted for unconventional domestic life; influenced the geneticist Crick; invented the Bernal sphere, a habital space generated by a spinning cylinder which simulates gravity by centifrugal force; suffered strokes from 1963; an RIA address on Bernal was given by Dorothy Hodgkin (FRS) in 1980.

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Criticism
B. Swann & F. Aprahamian, eds., J. D. Bernal, A L ife in Science and Politics (London: Verso Press 1999); see also Helena Sheehan, Marxism and the Philosophy of Science (Humanities Internat. Press 1985; 2nd edn. 1995), and website.

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