Lady Joan Strothers Curran (February 26th, 1916 � February 10th, 1999) was a Welsh scientist. It was in the dark days of the Second World War that she, like her husband, Sir Samuel Curran, played an important part in the survival of her country.
Joan Elizabeth Strothers was born in Swansea where her father was an optician. She won an open scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge, where, in 1935, she rowed for the ladies' university eight in the first real Womens' boat race against Oxford. She gained an honours degree in physics which was not awarded since this was in the days before women were allowed Cambridge degrees. In her seventies, in 1987, she was honoured with the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa by the University of Strathclyde.
Joan Strothers was awarded a government grant to study for a higher degree and elected to go to the Cavendish Laboratory where she joined Sam Curran in a team under the direction of Philip Dee. In the autumn of 1939, Dee and his team were in Exeter, involved in the development of the proximity fuse when war broke out. Joan and Sam married on November 7th, 1940. Soon afterwards they were transferred to the Telecommunications Research Establishment near Swansea, where Sam worked on centimetric radar while Joan joined the Counter Measures Group in an adjoining lab. It was with this group, at Swanage and later at Malvern, that Joan devised the technique, later to be known as 'Operation Window' ('chaff' is another name for it). She did so by cutting up strips of tinfoil which would be scattered in the path of enemy planes, thus disrupting their radar. We learn this not from Joan, for she was the most modest and self-effacing of persons, but from R.V. Jones in his book Most Secret War. Perhaps Window's most spectacular success was when it was dropped with great precision by Lancasters of 617 Squadron to synthesise a phantom invasion force of ships in the Straits of Dover on the night of 5-6 June 1944. This kept the Germans unsure of whether the brunt of the Allied assault would fall on Normandy or in the Pas de Calais.
In June, 1944, the Currans were invited to go to the University of California at Berkeley to take part in 'Operation Manhattan' (Robert Oppenheimer's Manhattan Project) - the development of the atomic bomb. Although in an advanced stage of pregnancy, Joan was occupied in observing nuclear fission through perspex and, shortly afterwards, gave birth to a daughter, Sheena, who was, sadly, severely handicapped.
When they returned to Glasgow, Joan and Sam, together with a few friends, set up the Scottish Society for the Parents of Mentally Handicapped Children (Enable) which now has nearly 100 branches with more than 5000 members. Later, when Joan was a member of the Greater Glasgow Health Board and of the Scottish Special Housing Association, the needs of the disabled were always at the front of her mind and she did much to promote their interests. She took a close interest in the work of the Council for Access for the Disabled and helped improve the range of facilities, especially for disabled university students.
When Sam was Principal of Strathclyde University, she founded the Strathclyde Women's Group and became its president. She promoted the special relationship with the Technical University of Lodz, Poland, and also devoted much care and attention to the children's hospital of that city. Later she established the Lady Curran Endowment fund for overseas, particularly Polish, students.
When gravely ill with cancer in 1998, she unveiled a plaque in Barony Hall, Glasgow, in her husband's honour and it was revealed to her that the walled garden at Ross Priory, on Loch Lomondside, was to be named in her honour and that the Joan Curran Summer House would be built there.
Her daughter, Sheena, three sons and three grandsons survived her.