Fellowship of the Royal Society
While not an official biography, the following is reprinted with the kind permission of the Royal Society.
by F.W. Campbell, F.R.S.†
Like his childhood mentor, Robert Williams Wood (1866-1955), Land became a Foreign Member of The Royal Society in 1986. It was an election that pleased him a great deal but, soon after his election, his health began to fail and after a period of hospitalization he was confined to his home in Cambridge. It was almost impossible for him to come to London to sign the Charter Book. Permission was sought from Council by his colleagues for the signature ceremony to be held at Land’s home in America. This was an unusual procedure, not often done. The Charter Book had been taken out of the Society’s apartments only very rarely. It was taken to Whitehall in 1665 to obtain the signature of Charles II, to Sigmund Freud’s home in Hampstead, London, in 1938 (Freud was too ill at the time), to 10 Downing Street in 1941 for Winston Churchill’s signature, and to the Royal Institution in 1948 for the signature of Sir Stafford Cripps. Only once before had a signing ceremony been held overseas, when Professor A.V. Hill obtained the signatures of two Fellows from India in 1944 in the presence of the Viceroy, Viscount Waverley. After some deliberation, Council resolved to send a page of the book (which will eventually be bound into the Charter Book). The Ceremony was held in Land’s home, in the presence of his wife, son-in-law and Mrs. Land’s Secretary. Professor S. Zeki read the citations and both Edwin Land and Edward Purcell, a close friend of Land’s, were admitted as Foreign Members by Professor Hugh Huxley. Ironically, Land’s signature appears on the page underneath that of Paul Langevin, who numbered work on polarizability as one of his achievements. Zeki later wrote: ‘When I looked at Land that day, he appeared to be a man who had led a full and meaningful life. His face reflected serenity, kindness, and the knowledge that he had enriched lives of many people and achieved a great deal.’