Ronald Ernest Aitchison (b. 1921, d. 1996)


Ron Aitchison was born in Hurstville, NSW on 29th December, 1921. From 1942 to 1945 Ron worked as an engineer with the Amalgamated Wireless Valve Company on the design and production of klystrons and radar magnetrons, which were new devices important to the war effort. He was also involved in work on semiconductor diodes, which were the forerunners of the revolution in electronics brought about by the advent of solid-state semiconductor components. In 1945 he joined the National Acoustic Laboratory where he worked on the design and construction of hearing aids for children.

Ron was appointed as Senior Lecturer in Communications Engineering at the University of Sydney, which was the start of his 25-year teaching experience at that institution, culminating in his appointment as Associate Professor. His interest in solid-state physics took him to Bristol University, UK, for a year and he also spent a year at Stanford University, California, on a Fulbright scholarship, working at the forefront of electronics research. In 1970, he accepted an offer from Macquarie University to become the founding Professor of Physics and took up the post in 1971. During his fifteen years at Macquarie, Ron was well known for his dedication to his students and his insistence on keeping up to date with the latest laboratory techniques, experiments and equipment for his students. This was necessary to ensure that the university was keeping in pace with the rapid changes in the electronics industry at the time.

On his retirement July 4, 1986, Ron decided to carry on with three of his favourite projects:

a) The scientific calculator with speech output for blind students. Ron's passion in his later years at Macquarie University was the development of the Speakwriter, a typewriter which enunciated the sounds of typewriter keys as they were pressed. An article written by Tony Healy in Computing Australia (1/9/86) quotes Tim Connell now working for Quantum Technology: “We saw Professor Aitchison on TV with his (talking) typewriter and realised we could do that.” Ron developed the talking typewriter originally to help a blind student complete a standard science course. His ideas can now be seen in many of the products available today made for people with vision impairment .

b) The completion of the design, construction and commissioning of an orbiting National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite for remote sensing.

c) The development of solid-state pulse modulators for driving hydrogen thyratrons and for replacing hydrogen thyratrons in pulsed lasers. As a result of his work in these fields and his forty years teaching experience, he was awarded the status of Emeritus Professor of Electronics.

During his long career spanning 25 years at University of Sydney and 15 at Macquarie University, Ron took pride not in academic papers or self-aggrandizement, but in the achievements of his students to whom he poured a never ending stream of ideas and research angles. In the words of Professor Frederick Choong, (Foundation Professor of Mathematics, Macquarie University, 1966-1980): "No problem was too peculiar for him. We knew that he could call on the most sophisticated of electronic devices, but he might also improvise with matchsticks, chewing gum and string! I can say that Ron Aitchison was one of the most energetic, most knowledgeable, most practical, most intelligent and most interesting persons I have ever known, and even more importantly, he was a real friend with a heart of gold and a purity of spirit unsullied by self-seeking motives.”

Publications of R.E. Aitchison

Aitchison's most cited paper, according to the ISI database, is his 1954 paper on transparent semiconducting films - which is still cited to this day. Also his 1964 paper in Am. J. Phys. is notable as it is still cited today and was the first calculation of the resistance between two points on an infinite 2D mesh.

R.E Aitchison, "The resistance mesh problem," J. Electrical & Electronics Engineering Australia, 2(2): pp.65-67, 1982.

T.J. Brown and R.E. Aitchison, "A microprocessor controller for a personal typewriter for visually handicapped users," IEEE Trans. Biomedical Engineering, 29(7): pp.551-555, 1982.

R.E. Aitchison, "The calendar," Phys. Educ., 17: pp. 186-189, 1982.

R.E. Aitchison and T.J. Brown, "A talking typewriter for the visually handicapped," J. Electrical & Electronics Engineering Australia, 1(4): pp.288-292, 1981.

R.E Aitchison, "VHF field strengths for line of sight reception," Proc. Inst. Radio & Electronics Engineers Australia, 36(7): pp.225-231, 1975.

R.E. Aitchison and T.J. Brown, "A high impedance amplifier for biological research," Electronic Engineering, 48(575): p.23, 1976.

R.E Aitchison, "Electronic world-wide navigation systems," Monitor, 37(12): pp.346-353, 1976.

R. E. Aitchison, ‘‘Resistance between adjacent points of Liebman mesh,’’ Am. J. Phys. 32(7), p. 566, 1964.

R.E. Aitchison, "A high-capacitance parametric diode for use at low frequencies," IEEE Trans. MTT, 10(1): p. 91, 1962.

R.E. Aitchison, "Suppressed zero d.c. volmeter," J. Sci. Instrum., 38: p. 329, 1961.

R.E. Aitchison, "Transparent semiconducting oxide films," Australian J. Appl. Science, 5, pp. 10-17, 1954.

R.E. Aitchison, "Small glass spray gun," J. Sci. Instrum., 26: p. 245, 1949.

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Archival Notes
1) Correspondence between R.E. Aitchison and physicist W.E. Titterton (1916-1990) is recorded at http://www.austehc.unimelb.edu.au/guides/titt/03.htm
2) Mention of R.E Aitchison is included in the memoirs of the physicist J.C. Ward (1924-2000).
 
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