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Professor Sir Harry Godwin FRS


Professor Sir Harry Godwin was the founder and first director of the Subdepartment of Quaternary Research.

The Godwin Institute (GIQR) and Godwin Laboratory are named in honour of Professor Sir Harry Godwin, a distinguished plant ecologist who pioneered the study of pollen analysis and palaeobotany in Great Britain.  He was also an early exponent of the study of ecological successions, such as in the fen wetlands at Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire.  Sir Harry formed the University Subdepartment of Quaternary Research in 1948, and in 1952 applied for a grant from the Nuffield Foundation to set up a Radiocarbon Dating laboratory in Cambridge.  Radiocarbon Dating was at that time a very new technique and was challenging many long-held ideas about archaeological and geological timescales.  Harry Godwin, Alfred Maddock and Eric Willis took on the daunting task of setting up a laboratory, persevered through setbacks and problems, and succeeded in creating the Radiocarbon Dating facility .

The landmark achievements of the Radiocarbon Laboratory included participation in the study that first demonstrated the complex shape of the radiocarbon calibration curve. The study used a segment of a Sequoia tree trunk still on display at the laboratory. Work in the Godwin Laboratory has included palynology, tree ring studies (dendrochronology), Electron Spin Resonance, Thermoluminescence and Optically-Stimulated Dating, and the numerous techniques associated with palaeoceanography: oxygen and carbon isotope measurements of carbonates, percent coarse fraction, faunal counts, core reflectance and other sedimentary parameters. The laboratory has been a world centre of the development of astronomically-tuned timescales for the geological record. The dramatic improvement of the geological timescale that this technique has achieved has led to many advances in understanding processes such as climate change, ecological responses to climatic variations, and evolution. Astronomical calibration has been compared to plate tectonic theory in its importance to geology.

Harry Godwin was a stimulating teacher and reseearcher.  His students include many famous practitioners including Richard West, (Sir) Nick Shackleton , Joakim Donner and many others.

PDF document Download the full biography of Sir Harry by his student and successor Professor R..G.West FRS .