When nuclear engineering was not a profession

Key reactor pioneers in the 1950s spearheaded the creation of a new profession, that of nuclear engineering. A historian of science in Scotland, Sean Johnston, wrote a book on just this topic (he gave the academic book an evocative title, something I admire). Intriguingly, one of his key protagonists resisted the notion of a new profession, as Johnston writes (pp. 181-182):

Hinton was averse to a labelled discipline. Approached to recommend an appointment for a new chair of Nuclear Engineering at Queen Mary College, London, Hinton replied that it would be “difficult to find a man with experience in this field” and suggested instead that they pick a conventional academic engineer who could be further trained at Harwell for six months. He argued to Prof Owen Saunders … “The last thing we want to do is to treat Nuclear Power as a separate technology” and, a few days later, “I am still nervous about the proposal to set up a Chair of Nuclear Engineering. It seems to me that it is quite wrong to regard this as a separate branch of engineering technology. I think that it would be better to think of it as an additional field in which students can practise the application of the basic engineering principles which ought to form the backbone of their University course.”

Sean F Johnston The Neutron's Children

Archives