Alan Alfred Ware was born in Portsmouth, England in 1924. His parents were Frederick C. and Violet E. E. Bradley Ware. His older brother, Collin W., was born the previous year. His undergraduate studies were at Imperial College, London.
He served in the British Royal Navy in the Pacific at the end of World War II.
He was a pioneer in the field of fusion energy. In 1951, he received his PhD from Imperial College, London, England. In her book, Fusion: The Search for Endless Energy (Cambridge University Press, 1990), Robin Herman describes the circumstances surrounding Alan’s thesis. It was against the background of World War II and its atomic bomb revelations that G.P. Thomson, steeped by his father in the new physics of the nucleus and of ionized gases, turned his thoughts to the construction of an actual fusion energy machine.
The thermonuclear fusion design Thomson patented used the same magnetic "pinch" principle applied by the Russians under Kurchatov’s direction six years later. An electric current passing through the plasma would create its own magnetic field. Thomson’s theoretical reactor would employ only this pinch effect to heat and hold the plasma. No other externally produced magnetic "bottle” would be necessary. The catch was that a tremendous current would be required, an expensive and difficult engineering proposition for which Thomson and his collaborator Blackman could not obtain government financing.
Still, for the next three years, Thomson, a physics professor at Imperial College, continually prodded Cockcroft, then head of Britain’s new Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell, to build the machine quickly on a power-producing scale. In January 1947, Cockcroft held a meeting at Harwell to discuss a controlled fusion program, and Thomson addressed the group which included the head of Harwell’s theoretical physics department, Klaus Fuchs. Thomson’s far-fetched, ambitious proposal received considerable hostile criticism and nothing resulted from the meeting.
As it happened, Nazi Germany had also thought of hot gases and self-induced magnetic fields. At the Harwell fusion meeting, the scientists discussed a report by an Allied commission that visited the German research labs following World War II. The report included brief notes about one M. Steenbeck. He had worked with a circular “pinch"machine, really a kind of particle accelerator he called the “Wirbelrohr,” the whirl tube.
Thwarted in his own building plans, Thomson passed along the notes on the Wirbelrohr to two young doctoral students at Imperial College, Stan Cousins and Alan Ware, who decided to conduct some experiments.
In 1947, Ware devised a small experimental machine. It was a hand-built contraption made of old radar equipment and a glass tube. Ware was able to create powerful currents, and he observed a bright flash of light in the gas—just as Spitzer would in the Stellarator. But Ware, behind closed doors, could not come up with equipment that would measure the temperature of the plasma he was making.
The work was so preliminary and fresh that it was not yet considered secret in Britain. Ware discussed his work with James Tuck, a fellow British physicist who had just returned to Oxford after working with the Americans at Los Alamos on the atomic bomb.
Tuck later discussed the possibility of building a controlled fusion device with a young Australian, Peter Thonemann, at the Clarendon Laboratory in Oxford. Thonemann had come to Oxford the previous year in hopes of working on fusion devices as his doctorate. In 1939, he had come up with a detailed concept for a fusion reactor when a student in Melbourne. Thonemann was directed to do his doctoral work on other nuclear physics, but he kept up the unconventional fusion work on the side, discussing it with Cockcroft, Fuchs, and countless others. He and Tuck did eventually win some funding from the U.K. atomic energy authorities to investigate controlled fusion.
Tuck planned to build a “pinch" experiment, but before he could get started he received an invitation from Edward Teller to return to Los Alamos to work on the thermonuclear or hydrogen bomb, the H-bomb. Tuck jumped at the chance, but he did not forget controlled fusion altogether. A few years later, after the secret American fusion program had begun with Spitzer’s Stellarator, Tuck proposed to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission that he build a "pinch" machine at Los Alamos. In contrast with the grandiose name Spitzer had chosen for his machine, Tuck gave his research device a name that reflected more skepticism of the new science: the “Perhapsatron." In 1952, the Perhapsatron was added to the American program.
Thonemann, meanwhile, had begun a cautious investigation of elementary plasma behavior. He tried to answer some basic questions about the effect of electrostatic forces on the gaseous cloud before attempting the construction of an actual fusion device. His modestly priced efforts met with greater support from the British energy authorities than did Thomson’s request to immediately build a powerful fusion experiment. Thomson’s proposal was turned down repeatedly by Cockcroft, who was in the midst of founding an enormous research facility based on fission energy, not fusion.
As Thonemann and Ware were disseminating their first results, the curtain of classification descended on fusion research in Britain, prompted by a pair of spy scandals in 1950. Fuchs, a German-born British scientist who had worked with the Americans at Los Alamos before assuming a position of authority at Harwell, was convicted of giving fission bomb secrets to the Soviet Union. Another Harwell scientist, an Italian named Bruno Pontecorvo, was also discovered to have been a Soviet spy.
“I have little doubt,” Thonemann wrote years later, “that Fuchs reported these matters [controlled fusion research] to his Russian masters who must have been aware of the U.K. interest.”
Thus, the timing of the Soviet Union’s first foray into controlled fusion and the similarity of the tokamak to Britain’s "pinch" machines might have owed something to the Fuchs connection.
The British government immediately took steps to tighten the security net around all atomic research, including controlled fusion. As a result, in 1951, the fusion research by Thomson and his students at Imperial College was classified secret. Ware’s equipment was moved to a secure facility at the Associated Electrical Industries Laboratory at Aldermaston in Berkshire that had locked doors and bars on the windows. Thonemann’s work at the Clarendon lab in Oxford was moved to nearby Harwell. There, the Australian gathered steady support over the next decade and eventually built the devices Thomson had dreamed of.
Ware had managed to get two papers out before classification took effect. He would not be published again for the next seven years.
Another account of Ware’s early work is provided by Dr. T. E. Allibone in his article Controlling the Discharge which appeared in The New Scientist, January 30, 1958. Building on the pinch idea of Sir G. P. Thomson, he writes, “Dr. Alan A. Ware began to work on this idea in January 1947 as a research student under Sir George Thomson and, by 1951, with Dr. Stanley Cousins, he had produced currents of about 30,000 amperes in a 1 1/2 inch toroidal glass tube, 16 in. in major diameter, when a 2,000 joule discharge from a condenser was passed through copper windings wound alongside the glass torus. A marked pinch effect was found but the pinch was followed instantly by a succession of expansions and contractions with no sign of ultimate stability being approached. (Photo at right added-Mel Oakes) When the input energy was raised to 20,000 joules the glass tori broke, and the quartz tori vaporized.
At this stage, the Government decided to classify this kind of science and, as Sir George did not want to pursue secret work within the precincts of Imperial College, he asked me in November, 1950, if I would accept this work in the Research Laboratory of the Associated Electrical Industries at Aldemaston, where a lot of nuclear physics was already in progress.
Dr. Ware and Mr. R. F Hemmings, his colleague. joined the staff of A E I in 1951 and around them has been built up over the years a small team now numbering 12 graduate scientists supported by a few assistants, all under the supervision of Dr. Ware, the section leader of this Thermonuclear Section. This section, together with the Reactor Section and the Nuclear Physics Section, constitute a Group on Nuclear Sciences in Aldermaston under Mr. D. R. Chick.
Research work on this subject was done by Dr. Thonemann in the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford, and this was transferred to A E R E, Harwell. Details of this work have been given in statements issued by the A E R E and, in their letter to Nature, so I will not repeat them. It suffices here to say that, starting in 1951, the two teams have worked in close association, often on complementary programs of work, and in great harmony: there have been joint progress meetings at frequent intervals and very many informal visits between the scientists of both groups have taken place.
He became the leader of the Thermonuclear Section for Associated Electrical Industries in Aldermaston, England. With Peter Thonneman and others, he performed the first significant fusion experiments in the U.K. at Aldermaston, using what later came to be called the "Ware Pinch," in which a strong current was used to ionize, heat, and confine the plasma. He continued his work there until 1965 when the family emigrated to California. He did fusion work for Aerojet General which had Air Force contracts for fusion work.
He married Teresa Helen Thatcher in 1952 in Battersea, UK. The family moved to Austin, Texas in 1969 when Alan accepted a senior scientist position at the University of Texas as a member of the Fusion Research Center, which had been created by W. E. Drummond. He made important contributions to the building of a number of tokamaks. He became affiliated with the Institute for Fusion Studies when it was established in 1980. He retired in 1994, although he continued to do research for several more years. Alan is remembered as a pioneer in the field of thermonuclear fusion energy.
As a devout Catholic, Alan was a longtime member of St. Theresa's Catholic Church, was active in the Legion of Mary for over 50 years, and led the Rosary weekly for inmates at the Travis State Jail and recently for residents of Longhorn Villages until his death. At his death, Alan's suggested in lieu of flowers donations be made to the Damien-Dutton Society for Leprosy Aid, 616 Bedford Avenue, Bellmore, New York 11710 (http://damien-duttonleprosysociety.org).
Alan Alfred Ware died August 28, 2010, at age 85 in Austin, Texas. He was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years, Teresa Helen Ware, on March 25, 2010. He is survived by his brother, Collin Ware of London, daughter Helen Reid of Mesquite, and sons, Paul Ware of Portland, Jonathan Ware of Austin, and Andrew Ware of Missoula, Montana, five grandchildren, Bobby Reid, Jeni Dominguez, Kristen McAshan, Trent Ware and Gabbi Ware, three great-grandchildren, Avery Reid, Travis Reid, and Emery Dominguez and several nieces and nephews.
Comments by colleagues of Alan Ware on news of his death:
“I was saddened to hear that Alan died last Saturday and that his wife had passed away earlier this year.
I met Alan more than fifty years ago, when he was at AEI, and we were together for a time at the Culham Lab in the 1960s. Some thirty years, later Alan and Theresa were among those who welcomed Joan and me to Austin (where Alan also introduced me to windsurfing on Lake Travis).
Alan will be remembered, both as a pioneer in Fusion research and as an exceptional person.”
Bryan (J B Taylor),
“I was a colleague of Alan's in the early days of the British fusion program. He was at AEI, Aldermaston and I was at AERE, Harwell. We were co-authors of a paper at the Geneva Conference in 1958. In the late 1960s we were colleagues again at UT, Austin.
I was greatly saddened to hear of his death. He was one of the pioneers of fusion, and I shall remember him with affection, both as a colleague and as a friend.”
“Since I have been a long time friend and admirer of Alan, I have been greatly saddened by the unexpected news of his passing. Alan combined, in a unique way, excellence and originality in scientific research, strength of character and a deep and open faith.
“He was certainly an example for me and I shall sincerely miss him.”
“Alan Ware was an exceptionally kind person and a great scientist. I learned enormously from our scientific collaborations while, at the same time, finding him a constant source of encouragement and support. Regarding both his intellectual and moral strengths, Alan was and remains a model of scientific excellence: here is how one conducts a scientific career. He will be sorely missed by his many friends in the fusion research community.”
Acknowledgement: Thanks to Andrew Ware for help with this page and Jim Van Dam for some dates.
Alan Alfred Ware Photo Album