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Prof. John (Jack) W. Boag


1911 - 2007

Medical physicist and pacifist. Born in Elgin, the son of a seaman, Boag was educated at Queen's Park High School in Glasgow and the University in that city. He moved to England to further his career, only returning permanently (to Edinburgh) in 1992. In 1942, he joined the new Radiotherapeutics Unit at Hammersmith Hospital (London). During 1955-57 he worked at St Bartholomew's Hospital with Professor Joseph Rotblat, who was later to win a Nobel Peace Prize. In 1958, Boag moved to the Radiobiology Unit at Mount Vernon Hospital (Middlesex), where he developed methods for measuring clinical radiation doses, designed ionisation chambers and examined statistical problems in cancer therapy. He became Head of Physics at the Royal Marsden Hospital in 1964.

Despite retiring in 1976, he maintained his involvement in the field, publishing his last scientific paper some twenty years later at the age of 85. A modest but brilliant scientist, Boag was honoured by the Presidency of the International Association for Radiation Research (1970) and of the British Institute of Radiology (1975), receiving their Barclay Medal in 1974 and the Gray Medal from the International Commission on Radiation Units and Measurements in 1975. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Glasgow in 1954, his own doctoral studies in Germany in the 1930s having been interrupted by the rise of Nazism.

He also dedicated time to promoting peaceful uses of scientific research and the need to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict. He served as British secretary of the Pugwash movement in the 1980s, was influential on the international stage in the lead up to the end of the Cold War and remained a member of their British Executive Committee until his death. He served as a defence witness in the Greenock trial which saw the sensational acquittal of the Trident Ploughshares women in 1999.

Boag died in Edinburgh.


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