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Malcolm Scott obituary | Physics

February 2, 2023
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My friend and father-in-law Malcolm Scott, who has died aged 86, was a man of varied – and contrasting – talents and interests.

A highly respected physicist whose research has been published internationally, he was also a gifted photographer who enjoyed recording life in rural England. He was an ardent traveller, yet relished being at home on his Worcestershire smallholding. He was interested in technological advances, but lamented the advances of big tech – preferring instead a local shop, a good book and the print edition of the Guardian.

Malcolm was born in London, to Florence (nee Imlay), a shorthand typist, and Harold Scott, who worked for a stockbroking firm in the City. He was an evacuee in Yorkshire during the second world war and later returned to the north on childhood holidays in the Lake District. These experiences formed Malcolm’s lifelong affection for that region and its Herdwick sheep – a breed he kept later in life.

Water buffaloes near Kandiaro, a photograph by Malcolm Scott, taken during his overland trip to Pakistan via Turkey and Afghanistan in 1970

A talented student, back in London Malcolm went to Beckenham and Penge county grammar school, before completing an engineering degree at the University of Birmingham. This was followed by a fellowship place at Harvard University studying mathematical physics. During this period, he travelled across the US and Central America.

In 1963, Malcolm joined the physics department at the University of Birmingham, going on to complete his PhD. After seven years, he took a sabbatical in Pakistan. Ignoring easier travel options, Malcolm drove there – via Turkey and Afghanistan – in a Land Rover. It was on this adventure that his talents as a photographer came to the fore. Images from the trip were later exhibited at the Photographers’ Gallery in London.

Shepherds and sheep, in the desert south of Quetta, a photograph by Malcolm Scott exhibited in a one-man show at the Photographers’ Gallery in London in 1974Shepherds and sheep, in the desert south of Quetta, a photograph by Malcolm Scott exhibited in a one-man show at the Photographers’ Gallery in London in 1974

Back in Birmingham, Malcolm went on to lead the reactor physics MSc course and the medical physics research group. It was a highly successful career. His work in boron neutron capture therapy, for example, is at the heart of products from one of the main companies developing this form of cancer treatment.

After retiring from Birmingham in 1992, Malcolm worked extensively with the charity Headway and continued with his photography, publishing collections including A Village Portrait: Leigh, Worcestershire (2000), Images of Creative Herefordshire: Its Artists, Craftspeople and Musicians at Work (2015) and Pakistan: One Man’s View (2016). The travelling also continued, with trips on the Trans-Siberian railway and a train journey from Malvern to Moscow.

That spirit of adventure never dwindled, even in the last few months of his life. Shortly before he died, Malcolm sailed on the tall ship Tenacious, and, despite his limited mobility, he took his turn at the helm.

Malcolm is survived by his second wife, Lillian (nee Somervaille), whom he married in 1998, two daughters, Katie and Talya , from his first marriage, to Pam (nee Wilkie), which ended in divorce, and seven grandchildren.

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