science

David Mildner obituary


My friend David Mildner, who has died aged 76, was a leading figure in atomic research, hailed as “neutron scattering’s first rock star” at the Center for Neutron Research of the US National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland.

The second of the seven children of Raymond Mildner, an electrical engineer then serving as a Flight Lieutenant in the wartime RAF, and his wife, Betty Haslam Smith, David was born in Guildford, Surrey. He was brought up in Wimbledon and educated by the Jesuits at Donhead and then Wimbledon College, where he and I were classmates. David was a prominent member of Wimbledon College’s Class of 55; he became (a very popular and effective) head boy in 1961, and won a scholarship to Worcester College, Oxford, to read physics, graduating well in 1966.

His family had emigrated to the US during his schooldays, and David joined them after leaving Oxford, in his own words “barely knowing his younger siblings”. He entered graduate school at Ann Arbor, Michigan, working on nuclear research reactors, neutron and proton recoil generators and a time-of-flight diffractometer.

From 1973, back temporarily in the UK, he joined the Science Research Council at the Rutherford Laboratory, in Oxfordshire, worked at the Energy Research Establishment (AERE) Harwell, and contributed to the design of the ISIS Neutron Source. Throughout the last 40 years, this facility has enabled enormous, wide-reaching, developments in medical and scientific research, national security, and even consumer product development.

Disappointed that so little changed despite Britain’s joining of the (then) European Community, while he had changed so much, David returned to the US, becoming associate professor of physics at the University of Missouri.

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He was obliged to become a US citizen in 1989 to be able to join NIST in Maryland. He published widely, and shared his experience with peers and students in France, Russia, the UK, Greece, Portugal and India, often as an International Atomic Energy Agency expert, as well as working on US Department of Energy review committees – it was just as well he loved travelling so much.

He and his second wife, Maryanne, an NIST colleague, lived close to the institute, and, even after retirement, David visited, taught and consulted there until very recently.

He had played rugby and cricket at school, and kept on playing and later refereeing rugby until recently. David’s health and lifestyle was badly impaired by cancer episodes, and then by the onset of Parkinson’s disease in the last two years. His travelling was curtailed, preventing the extended-family international reunions that he cherished, and he relied more and more on Maryanne, although his brain was still sharp enough to challenge and rail at fake news and cartoon-villain politicians, at home and in the UK.

David is survived by Maryanne (nee Schindell), whom he married in 1995; by his sons, John and Jefferson, from his first marriage, to Shelly Ann Hobson, which ended in divorce; two stepchildren; two grandchildren and three step-grandchildren; and by his siblings, Susan, Rosalind, Peter, Helen, Felicity and Gerard.



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