The Royal Academy of Engineering is to award its first ever Lifetime Achievement Award to Retired Deputy Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Philip Woodward, recognising him as an outstanding pioneer of Radar and for his work in precision mechanical horology.

Philip Woodward’s career in the Scientific Civil Service spanned some four decades. He was responsible for one of the UK’s first electronic computers (TREAC) followed by the UK’s first solid state computer (RREAC). He is the author of the internationally renowned book ‘Probability and Information Theory, with Applications to Radar’ and in retirement also wrote another classic book, ‘My Own Right Time’ fondly known as MORT, indulging his lifelong passion for horology (’astonishing results, exquisite drawings’ – New Scientist).

During WW2, Philip Woodward developed a mathematical beam-shaping technique for radar antennae, which was later to become standard in the analysis of communication signals. In 1956, his work on radar information theory led Nobel Prizewinning physicist John H Van Vleck to invite Woodward to give a postgraduate course on random processes at Harvard University. In his posthumous book on ’Probability Theory – The Logic of Science’ (C.U.P. 2003), Professor E T Jaynes recognized Woodward as having been ’many years ahead of his time’ and as having shown ’prophetic insight into what was to come’.

Philip Woodward’s principal achievement in radar was to evaluate the ambiguities inherent in all radar signals and to show how Bayesian probability can be used as part of the design process to eliminate all but the wanted information the echoes might contain.

In the 1960’s Philip Woodward’s computer software team in Malvern provided the Royal Radar Establishment with the world’s first implementation of programming language Algol 68, and provided the armed services with their first standard high-level programming language for the small military computers of the day.

At various times, Woodward has been an Honorary Professor in Electrical Engineering at the University of Birmingham and a Visiting Professor in Cybernetics at the University of Reading. In 1984, he designed and made a pendulum clock which has been acclaimed by the Senior Curator of Horology at the Royal Observatory Greenwich as ‘the nearest approach to perfection by any mechanical timekeeper not employing a vacuum chamber.’ When in 2000 the Woodward Building was opened by Sir John Chisholm at DERA (now at QinetiQ), guests were supplied with complimentary clocks as souvenirs of the occasion and of Philip Woodward’s horological interests.

He will receive the Academy’s medal from Lord Browne of Madingley FREng, Group Chief Executive, BP on Thursday 2 June at the Academy’s Awards Dinner in London and says,

“I have played about in mathematics and in science all my life, but recognition as an engineer was always my highest ambition. This award is an unsurpassable honour.”

Notes for editors

  1. The Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award is new this year, and will be awarded to an engineer normally resident in the UK whose achievements have had a profound impact upon their engineering discipline. This award applies particularly to those engineers who have not been recognized earlier in their careers for reasons such as latency in the impact of their work or late disclosure due to national or commercial secrecy.
  2. Founded in 1976, the Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Dr Claire McLoughlin at the Royal Academy of Engineering