The Daintons and Wingate - Wingate Scholarships and Science
Professor John Dainton


My Father, who was a distinguished scientist - a physical chemist, as well as a distinguished administrator, was invited to participate in the Wingate Scholarship scheme at its foundation. At the time I was a young, impetuous, physicist, who liked to think he was engrossed pushing back the frontiers, and who was certainly unaware of what made an experienced chemist tick! I remember him telling me about the scheme and his role in it, and somehow it lodged in my mind in between my youthful exuberance, some say physicist’s arrogance, based on a combination of an obsession with the structure of matter in the Universe, and on my prejudice about all things chemical!

My appreciation of just how much of a difference the Wingate Foundation could make came when I was confronted by my boss, a then senior professor of physics, concerning an extremely bright young physicist who wanted to work for a PhD with us, who didn’t qualify for a UK-funded studentship, and who therefore presented us with a funding challenge. When asked for advice (sometimes – rarely! - physicists do have to seek an opinion or two from a chemist), my Father seemed encouraged by the prospect that there could be an outstanding applicant for a Wingate Scholarship who, even if he was not a chemist (and moreover was even a physicist!), could still be worth considering, and he encouraged me to encourage the application.

The rest is, as they say, history. The applicant was successful, winning an award, and also I believe perhaps surprising more than just the chemist on the panel at the breadth, as well as depth, of quality of someone who wanted to work for a PhD in High Energy Physics while also continuing a substantial, amateur, music making career. That applicant is now a faculty member at a leading European university, who now plays a central role on an experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva. Without Wingate this would not have happened.

And I suppose it all exemplifies the crucial importance of the Wingate Foundation. Based alone on selection criteria which manifestly must demonstrate only excellence, it enables where others cannot. It therefore facilitates the very best when otherwise nothing would be possible. Moreover, as its first two decades now clearly show, it does so in a manner which is completely unshackled by the vacillating whims of government edict now more and more to be found meddling in the funding of individual post-graduate and post-doctoral enterprise and ambition. For a scientist like myself, and also like my Father, Wingate, unlike most others, thus shines as an enabler of the very best. And the latter is for me characterised with the words of the distinguished theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson:

"Every important discovery is by definition unpredictable. If it were predictable, it would not be important.",*

This so encapsulates how the very best in all walks of life, from scientific discovery to artistic innovation, comes to pass. The triumph of Wingate is that it makes such “important discovery” possible, and with unrivalled success.

So it was a great honour for me to be invited to be part of the work of the Wingate Foundation, and at an age when youthful energy had been overtaken by hopefully some evidence of wisdom based on experience! For without question, the Foundation has carved itself a unique and unparalleled niche, with a reputation for excellence which is demonstrably to be found in two decades of outstanding achievement. I can’t resist myself thinking that, if still involved, my Father would also have been very proud to have been associated with the Wingate Foundation and in its achievements in its first two decades, and that he would also like me have seen (even if it meant a chemist agreeing with a physicist) of the inevitability, and desirability, of its importance growing much more in years to come for the very best innovation in whatever domain for the future of humanity.

Professor John Dainton FInstP FRSA FRS
Academic Advisor in Physics

*Freeman Dyson (speech when receiving the Britannica Award for excellence in the dissemination of learning for the benefit of mankind, part reported in the Independent, March 12th 1990.