My mentor, research supervisor and friend, the physicist WGP (Percy) Lamb, who has died aged 97, was a member of the celebrated King’s College London team that contributed to the unravelling of the structure of DNA in the early 1950s. His PhD work at King’s was supervised by John Randall and as a result Percy joined the team led by Randall and Maurice Wilkins, which also included Rosalind Franklin, who was responsible for the famous “photo 51” that revealed the structure of a double helix.
Percy specialised in the use of light and electron microscopes to study the nature of cell nuclei. He worked closely with others including Rene Bovey, Marlene Friedlander and Angela Martin during the formative period of the research.
He was born in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, the only child of William Lamb, a civil and structural engineer, and his wife, Letitia (nee Scears). After attending the nearby Westcliff high school for boys, he went on to study physics at Queen Mary College, London, graduating with a first in 1941.
He was seconded to the Armaments Research Establishment (ARE) – the forerunner of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) – at Foulness, Essex, where, throughout the remainder of the second world war, he was involved in the measurement of blast waves. He wryly remarked that the main preoccupation of the wartime ARE work was “trying not to get oneself killed”. He was with ARE until 1947, when he went to King’s for his PhD. He remained there until 1952.
He returned to the AWRE in Aldermaston, Berkshire, where he developed specific instrumentation to analyse the effects of shock waves including the UK’s first atom bomb trials off Western Australia before briefly joining JD Bernal’s group at Birkbeck College, London, in 1959 to set up an electron diffraction unit.
In 1960 he was appointed research fellow in physics at the Sir John Cass College of Science and Technology (now part of London Metropolitan University) where he supervised research in the Ultra High Vacuum Group and where I first met him, in 1970, when he became my research supervisor. He retired in 1985 but continued working on many projects until well past his 90th birthday.
Percy was a versatile and talented scientist of the old school. He had a polite and somewhat reserved manner, but was a kind, loyal and compassionate friend to those who knew him well.