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Prof John Desmond Bernal

Male 1901 - 1971  (70 years)    Has 3 ancestors and 4 descendants in this family tree.

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  • Name John Desmond Bernal 
    Prefix Prof 
    Relationshipwith Francis Fox
    Birth 10 May 1901  Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Male 
    Death 15 Sep 1971  London, Middlesex, England Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Person ID I675290  Geneagraphie
    Links To This person is also John Desmond Bernal at Wikipedia 
    Last Modified 5 Mar 2013 

    Father Samuel Bernal   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Mother Elizabeth Miller   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Family ID F297350  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family 1 Agnes Eileen Sprague   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Marriage 21 Jun 1922 
     1. Mike Bernal,   b. 1926
     2. Living
    Last Modified 10 Jan 2010 
    Family ID F297351  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family 2 Margaret Gardiner,   b. 22 Apr 1904, Berlin, Brandenburg, D Find all individuals with events at this locationd. 02 Jan 2005 (Age 100 years) 
    Marriage Type: long-term relationship 
     1. Prof. Martin Bernal,   b. 1937   d. 2013 (Age 76 years)
    Last Modified 5 Mar 2013 
    Family ID F268934  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family 3 Margot Claire Heinemann,   b. 18 Nov 1913   d. 10 Jun 1992 (Age 78 years) 
    Marriage Type: Relationship 
     1. Living
    Last Modified 5 Mar 2013 
    Family ID F297352  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family 4 Dorothy Mary Crowfoot,   b. 12 May 1910, Cairo Find all individuals with events at this locationd. 29 Jul 1994, Shipston-on-Stour, England Find all individuals with events at this location (Age 84 years) 
    Marriage Type: a brief intimate relationship 
    Last Modified 20 Jan 2018 
    Family ID F367069  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Event Map Click to display
    Link to Google MapsDeath - 15 Sep 1971 - London, Middlesex, England Link to Google Earth
     = Link to Google Earth 
    Pin Legend  : Address       : Location       : City/Town       : County/Shire       : State/Province       : Country       : Not Set

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  • Notes 
    • Bernal was the son of a farmer of Italian and Spanish/Portuguese Sephardic Jewish descent. His mother was an American journalist. He was educated in England first at Stonyhurst College where according to biographer Maurice Goldsmith there was no science taught till the sixth form. Because of this he was moved to Bedford School at the age of thirteen. There, according to Goldsmith, for five years from 1914-1919 he found it 'extremely unpleasant' and most of his fellow students 'bored him' though his younger brother Kevin who was also there was 'some consolation' In 1919 he went to Emmanuel College, Cambridge University with a mathematical scholarship.
      At Cambridge Bernal studied both mathematics and science for a BA degree in 1922, which he followed by another year of natural sciences. He taught himself the theory of space groups , including the quaternion method; this became the mathematical basis of later work on crystal structure . Whilst at Cambridge he also became known as "Sage", a nickname given to him about 1920 by a young woman working in Ogden's Bookshop at the corner of Bridge Street.

      After graduation, Bernal began research under Sir William Bragg at the Davy Faraday Laboratory at the Royal Institution in London. In 1924 he determined the structure of graphite . He also did work on bronze . He is also famous for having firstly proposed in 1929 the so-called Bernal sphere , a type of space habitat intended as a long-term home for permanent residents.
      While at Cambridge, he worked on the structure of vitamin B1 (1933), pepsin (1934), vitamin D2 (1935), the sterols (1936), and the tobacco mosaic virus (1937). It was in his research group in Cambridge that Dorothy Hodgkin started her research. Together, in 1934, they took the first X-ray photographs of hydrated protein crystals . Other prominent scientists who studied with him include Rosalind Franklin , Aaron Klug and Max Perutz .
      In 1937, Bernal became Professor of Physics at Birkbeck College, University of London .

      Bernal was a public intellectual , very prominent in political life, particularly in the 1930s after having left the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1933. According to biographer Maurice Goldsmith, he did not so much withdraw from the CPGB, but lost his card and did not renew it. He had joined in 1923.
      He attended the famous 1931 meeting on History of Science , where he met the Soviets Nikolai Bukharin and Boris Hessen , who gave an influential Marxist account of the work of Isaac Newton . This meeting fundamentally changed his world-view and he maintained sympathy for the Soviet Union and Stalin . In 1939, Bernal published The Social Function of Science, probably the earliest text on the sociology of science .
      On 20 September 1949 the Evening Star newspaper of Ipswich published an interview with Bernal in which he endorsed the "proletarian science" of Trofim Lysenko . The Lysenko affair had erupted in August 1948 when Stalin authorised Lysenko's bogus theory of plant genetics as official Soviet orthodoxy, and refused any deviation.
      Bernal and the whole British scientific left were damaged by their support for Lysenko's theory, even after many scientists abandoned their sympathy for the Soviet Union. As a result of the exile and persecution of Russian scientists who refused to toe Stalin's party line, the British Royal Society severed relations with the Soviet Academy of Sciences in November 1948. Because of his endorsement of Lysenko, in 1949 the US refused to grant Bernal a visa for a visit. The same year the British Association for the Advancement of Science stripped Bernal of his membership. Membership in UK radical science groups quickly declined. Unlike some of his socialist colleagues, Bernal persisted in defending the Soviet position on Lysenko. He publicly refused to accept the gaping fissures that the dispute revealed between the study of natural science and dialectical Marxism.
      In November 1950, Picasso, a fellow communist, en-route to a Soviet-sponsored (Eric Hobsbawm, Interesting Times, p.181) World Peace Congress in Sheffield created a mural in Bernal's Torrington Square flat. In 2007 this became part of the Wellcome Trust's collection .
      Throughout the 1950s, Bernal maintained a faith in the Soviet Union as a vehicle for the creation of a socialist scientific utopia. In 1953 he was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize . From 1959-1965 he was chairman of the World Peace Council .

      With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Bernal joined the Ministry of Home Security, where he worked with Solly Zuckerman to carry out an important analysis of the effects of enemy bombing. Later in the war he served as scientific adviser to Lord Louis Mountbatten , the Chief of Combined Operations.
      A biographer claimed that he was a joint inventor of the Mulberry Harbour . However, controversy developed around Bernal's role in the planning of D-Day, especially in respect to the authenticity of an account given by Bernal of his crossing of the Channel on D-Day plus 1 and 2. Brown provides strong evidence of Bernal's decisive contributions to the preparation and the success of the invasion. Brown states that it was Solly Zuckerman who raised doubts about Bernal's role, despite having earlier collaborated with him on operational matters. Brown cites Zuckerman's character as the main reason for his accusations, although political divergences must have played a role as well.
      After helping orchestrate D-Day , Bernal landed at Normandy on D-Day + 1. It was said that a letter of his went astray in early 1944, and this nearly led to the postponement of D-Day. (Source: film account by his younger colleague at Birkbeck College, Professor Alan Mackay FRS, who quoted Bernal on this fact). His extensive knowledge of the area stemmed from a combination of research in English libraries and personal experience, as he had visited the area on previous holidays. The Navy temporarily assigned him the rank of commander so he would not stand out as a civilian amongst the invasion forces. However, the members of his unit were less than convinced as he directed a vehicle using the terms "left" and "right" instead of " port " and " starboard ."

      His family was of mixed Italian and Spanish/Portuguese Sephardic Jewish origin on his father's side (his grandfather Jacob Genese, properly Ginesi, had adopted the family name Bernal of his paternal grandmother around 1837). His father Samuel Bernal had been raised as a Catholic and his American mother, née Elizabeth Miller, had converted to Catholicism. She was a graduate of Stanford University and a journalist.
      Bernal had two children (Mike, b.1926 and Egan, b.1930) with his wife Agnes Eileen Sprague (referred to as Eileen), who was a secretary. He married Sprague on 21 June 1922, the day after having been awarded his BA degree. Bernal was 21, Sprague 23. Sprague was described as an active socialist and their marriage 'open' which they both lived up to 'with great gusto'. He also had a child (Jane, b.1953) with Margot Heinemann . Eileen is mentioned as his widow in 1990.
      Bernal also had a long-term professional and, intermittently, intimate relationship with Dorothy Hodgkin , whose scientific research work he mentored.
      In the 1930s he became involved in a long-term relationship with the artist Margaret Gardiner , with whom he had a son Martin Bernal , (b.1936) who became a professor of philosophy and author of the controversial Afrocentric work Black Athena . Gardiner always referred to herself as "Mrs. Bernal", though the two never married. She had had a brief relationship about 1920 with Solly Zuckerman. Gardiner was with Bernal in Leningrad when Sergey Kirov , a potential rival to Stalin , was assassinated

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