Bursary success repeated 97 years later

A University of Otago student who received the same bursary as his great-grandfather almost 100 years earlier has been uncannily close to the wireless expert’s 1923 master’s thesis in the past four years.

While Conor Hassan was learning about mathematics and statistics, he did not realise his great-grandfather Miles Barnett’s work was stored in the department of physics in the same building.

But there it was, locked away in a cabinet near stairs he had often walked up and down.

Dr Barnett was awarded the Beverly Prize in 1921 and 1922.

His 1923 thesis analysed experimental radio broadcasts.

He would go on to get his master’s degree in science with double first-class honours in physics and mathematics and complete his doctorate at the University of Cambridge.

Encouraged by Sir Ernest Rutherford and working in the Cavendish Laboratory, Dr Barnett helped prove the existence of the ionised layer in the upper atmosphere and measured its height by using radio signals.

Conor Hassan holds his great-grandfather Miles Barnett’s master’s thesis in the physics archives...
Conor Hassan holds his great-grandfather Miles Barnett’s master’s thesis in the physics archives at the University of Otago. Both men were recipients of the Beverly Scholarship, almost 100 years apart. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY

Mr Hassan (21) was awarded the renamed Beverly Scholarship last year.

His honours research project is about the effect of fake news on elections.

His uncle John Harte set him on to investigating whether Dr Barnett’s master’s thesis could be found.

Mr Harte had wanted to learn what Dr Barnett knew before he went to Cambridge.

Mr Hassan was not optimistic but found the thesis quickly.

"I thought 1923, hit or miss, but it was right there."

He was struck by the hand-drawn diagrams.

It was unusual reading through content his great-grandfather produced a about the same age.

"I find it pretty hard to put it in perspective."

Ability in mathematics runs in the family to some extent but Mr Hassan’s great-great-grandfather Sir Louis Barnett was a renowned surgeon and the Barnett Lecture Theatre at Dunedin Hospital was named after him.

Miles Barnett
Miles Barnett

The Ralph Barnett chair of surgery was named after Sir Louis’s son, who was killed in action in World War 1.

Miles Barnett returned from Cambridge to New Zealand, settling in Wellington.

He worked as a physicist for the DSIR and then for the Meteorological Office, developing services needed for aviation.

He served as director of the office from 1939 to 1962.

In 1974, reflecting on his time at Cavendish Laboratory, he said crucial experiments were carried out with simple equipment.

He also commented that in his first interview with Sir Ernest, he was delighted to learn he would work on radio propagation.

The scholarship was named after watchmaker Arthur Beverly, who created a clock in 1865 that did not need to be manually wound.

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