Colin Ramm (1921 - 2014)

One of the CERN's pioneering figures , Colin Ramm, passed away on 23 June.


Colin Ramm, CERN 1963.

Colin was born in Perth, Western Australia, and gained a first-class honours degree in physics at the University of Western Australia in 1942. In 1947 he went to Birmingham University, where Europe’s first proton synchrotron was being built to produce an energy of 1 GeV and where he obtained his doctorate in 1951.

In 1954, Colin joined CERN’s Proton Synchrotron Division as leader of the magnet group, which became responsible for the whole of the synchrotron’s magnet system. The magnet group – which became the Nuclear Physics Apparatus Division in 1961 – then turned towards helping to make the PS usable for experiments, and a number of projects took shape under Colin’s leadership: a heavy-liquid bubble chamber, magnets and lenses for guiding secondary beams, electrostatic separators, a high-energy antiproton beam, scanning apparatus for bubble-chamber photographs, a fast beam-ejection system, and finally an enhanced neutrino beam.

The Ramm chamber – with a volume of 500 litres – was at the time the largest heavy-liquid chamber in the world operating in a magnetic field. Completed in 1960, it was used in CERN’s first neutrino experiments. The electrostatic separators built by Colin’s division gave CERN some of the world’s highest-energy beams of separated particles, as well as leading to research into the basic principles of high-voltage breakdown. However, the enhanced neutrino beam quickly became the Division’s main preoccupation. A group under Berend Kuiper and Günther Plass was already working on a proposal for extracting protons from the synchrotron, when it became obvious that with the ejected beam a greater pion flux could be obtained in the experimental areas. Simon van der Meer came up with the idea of a magnetic horn, to concentrate the pions so that an even larger number of neutrinos from their decays would be directed towards the detectors.

Colin returned to Australia in 1972 when invited to become the first full-time Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Melbourne. After retiring as Dean in 1983, he joined the School of Physics, and after a gap of almost 30 years, he returned to teaching, one of his first loves. He retired in 1988.

He leaves behind a daughter and a son, who went on to practise one of Colin’s great interests – marine science.

His friends from Melbourne and CERN

Extracted from the obituary in CERN Courier, November 2014 (p.41).