Week 40 – Sir Samuel Curran naming the Curran Building, 1980
[Archives reference: OP/5/42/6]
On 24 October 1980, the Curran building, home of the Andersonian Library, was officially named by - and after - Sir Samuel Curran (1912-1998). The University extended this honour to Curran in recognition of his outstanding service, both as Principal of the Royal College of Science and Technology from 1959-1964, and as the first Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde from 1964 until his retirement in 1980.
Long before he arrived at the Royal College of Science and Technology, Curran forged a successful career as a research scientist. In 1937, he gained a PhD from the University of Glasgow for research into diffraction of beta rays of radium, which led to a post in the Cavendish Laboratory at St John’s College, Cambridge. On the outbreak of the Second World War, he was requisitioned to war work at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, along with Joan Strothers, whom he married in November 1940. At this time, Joan, also a distinguished researcher, developed ‘Operation Window’, the technique of scattering strips of tin foil in the air to disrupt enemy radar.
In 1944 the couple crossed the Atlantic to work on the Manhattan Project, the development of the atomic bomb, in California. It was during this time that Curran devised the scintillation counter for the detection and counting of radiation sources, an invention of major significance for post-war industrial applications.
After the war, Curran returned to the University of Glasgow as a lecturer at the special request of Professor Philip Dee, his former colleague at the Cavendish Laboratory, who had become Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University. Having been at the cutting edge of nuclear physics and witnessed the staggering advances that had been made in a relatively short space of time, Curran now deployed his skills by joining the UK Atomic Energy Authority in 1955 to work on harnessing the release of energy by hydrogen fusion, and became an advocate for sustainable energy sources.
In 1959, after a full career as an eminent scientist, Samuel Curran turned his attention to training the next generation. His vision was to establish the Royal College of Science and Technology as a world-leading technological institution, and to elevate it to University status: the first University to be established in Scotland for almost four hundred years. Principal Curran’s determination and scientific reputation helped him to convince the University Grants Committee that the College was deserving of such status. As he pointed out, the College produced over ten per cent of all students with university-level technology qualifications in Britain, which was more than all four of the Scottish Universities combined. Curran’s vision was realised when the Royal Charter was sealed by Queen Elizabeth II in 1964, and the University of Strathclyde officially came into being. While serving as Principal of the new University, Curran also acted as Chief Scientific Adviser to the Secretary of State for Scotland (1967-1977), and received a knighthood, awarded in 1970.
Paying tribute to Curran following his death in 1998, the then Principal, Professor Sir John Arbuthnott, neatly summarised Curran’s tremendous service to Strathclyde:
‘Curran transformed the Royal College - itself an internationally renowned institution - into a University. Throughout his many years as Principal, he never lost sight of the ideals of Strathclyde’s founder, John Anderson, and insisted that the University should usefully serve society in all its manifestations… Sir Sam insisted that its graduates should be trained and educated men and women who would respond to industry and their professions’ changing circumstances. He was a man of vision and the seeds of Strathclyde’s current success in commercialising its research activities were sown by him back in the Sixties and Seventies.’