Rocks, Radio and Radar: The Extraordinary Scientific, Social and Military Life of Elizabeth Alexander

Author(s): Mary Harris

Biography & Memoir

Many women scientists, particularly those who did crucial work in two world wars, have disappeared from history. Until they are written back in, the history of science will continue to remain unbalanced. This book tells the story of Elizabeth Alexander, a pioneering scientist who changed thinking in geology and radio astronomy during WWII and its aftermath.

Building on an unpublished diary, recently declassified government records and archive material adding considerably to knowledge about radar developments in the Pacific in WWII, this book also contextualises Elizabeth's academic life in Singapore before the war, and the country's educational and physical reconstruction after it as it moved towards independence.

This unique story is a must-read for readers interested in scientific, social and military history during the WWII, historians of geology, radar, as well as scientific biographies.


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"Elizabeth worked her entire life which was unusual for a mother at that time. She died when she was only 50 of an aneurism. Elizabeth disappeared from history: Why is analysed in Mary Harris s book, but it was all about being a woman scientist in an era when women were expected to stay at home." -- Sandra Coney, Author of On the Radar

"This is an interesting and bittersweet biography. Elizabeth Alexander was a capable and energetic scientist, but circumstances meant that she was never able to settle down and develop her scientific career. The three years she spent in charge of the Operational Research Section of the Radar Development Laboratory in New Zealand was the only time that Elizabeth held a position of responsibility, and is a clear indication that, had she lived 50 years later, she would have been an effective science leader … The book outlines the career of a remarkable scientist, and is a significant contribution to the history of several different areas of science." -- Scoop Review of Books 

"Rocks, Radio and Radar is a wonder book, a true adventure story … In her final chapter, titled 'Disappearance From History' Mary talks about how women scientists have been belittled or ignored far too long. It is good to finally see this changing, and that the remarkable achievements of one more woman of international distinction … " -- Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage

Born in Singapore in 1939, Mary Harris née Alexander was evacuated to New Zealand in 1942, eventually arriving in England in 1947. She attended Oxford High School then University College Ibadan Nigeria, where she read for the London University BSc. Following the death of her mother in her final year and unable to complete her degree when her father remarried, she returned to England.

She married in 1960, and inspired by her daughter's learning disabilities, she took a London University B.Ed, taught and did curriculum research in special then mainstream mathematics education. Her work constantly interrupted by the needs of her daughter, her son and her husband, who had been a Far East prisoner-of-war, she was unable to complete her PhD but continued to develop her career in mathematics education at the University of London Institute of Education until her retirement. 

For many years she has been an active member of 3 charities which research the lives of individuals caught up in the fall of Singapore in 1942 and its aftermath. In her rare leisure time she continues to pursue a life-long interest in archaeology and ancient history of Africa and the Middle and Far East. Her professional research and publications are mainly concerned with mathematics in everyday life, particularly the unacknowledged mathematical content of the traditional work of women. She lives in North Kensington in London, deeply embedded in her community at the foot of Grenfell Tower.

General Fields

  • : 9781786346643
  • : World Scientific Publishing Co Pte Ltd
  • : World Scientific Publishing Co Pte Ltd
  • : March 2019
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Mary Harris
  • : Hardback
  • : 509.2