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The University of Southampton
The Parkes Institute

From Kindertransport Refugee to Prize Winning Physicist: The Life and Archive of Ben Abeles Event

Photograph of Ben Abeles
6 June 2023
Highfield Campus (room TBC) & Online via Zoom

For more information regarding this event, please email .

Event details

This event is to mark the arrival of the remarkable archive of Ben Abeles.

Ben Abeles was born in Austria in 1925 and grew up in Czechoslovakia. In 1939, aged 14, he came as a young Jewish boy on one of the Kindertransports to the UK organised by Nicholas Winton and others. He served in the RAF during the war, returning to Czechoslovakia and then Israel where he trained as a scientist. Ben became a prominent physicist in America where his research led to the technology to power space probes such as the Voyager. For this work he was awarded the prestigious Stuart Ballantine Medal in 1979 and was inducted into the New Jersey Inventor Hall of Fame in 1991. In retirement Ben returned to England where he died in 2020.

This event is to mark the arrival of his remarkable archive which includes papers relating to the deep history of his Jewish family in Europe, his life as a Kindertransportee and his career as a leading physicist. We are offering the opportunity to view some of this newly arrived material in our archive between 3 and 3:50pm prior to our event.

The speakers will include Helen Abeles, Ben’s widow, who will talk about his life; Nicola Woodhead of the Parkes Institute Karten Outreach Team who will introduce the history of the Kindertransport with particular focus on transmigrancy; Karen Robson on the archive collection as a whole and where Ben’s papers will fit in it; and Charlie Ryan, Associate Professor of Astronautics at the University who will explain the wider context of Ben’s scientific significance. Professor Tony Kushner of the Parkes Institute will chair the study day.

This event will take place in-person on Highfield Campus and online via Zoom.

Tea and cake will be served for guests following this event for those attending in-person.

Speaker Bios

Helen Abeles is the wife and literary executor of the late Ben Abeles. After gaining a BA in Archaeology at the University of Sheffield she worked in the human rights field, training international observers accompanying survivors of genocide in Guatemala. Since 2004 she has been co-director of Soft Touch Arts, a centre in Leicester which engages young people in creative activities.

Dr Nicola Woodhead has recently submitted her PhD thesis at the Parkes Institute, University of Southampton. Her research focuses on the Kindertransport, specifically the re-emigration of Kinder and the global span of the Kindertransport. She has mapped the journeys of Kinder by using memory and archival materials to provide a more accurate understanding of the specific experiences of transmigrant Kinder. Nicola also holds the post of Ian Karten Outreach Fellow at the Parkes Institute.

Karen Robson is Head of the Parkes Archive and Special Collections, University of Southampton.

Dr Charlie Ryan is a Lecturer in Astronautics, specializing in the research and development of low cost micro-propulsion systems for small spacecraft. He has particular expertise in micro and mini electric propulsion, in particular electrospray thrusters and also low cost small hall-effect like thrusters. Also Dr Charlie Ryan has a growing interest in small chemical propulsion systems, particularly using hydrogen peroxide.

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