Sir Edward Appleton was born in Bradford in 1892. A gifted scholar, he entered the University of London at the age of 16 after which he studied at St John's College, Cambridge. In 1920 he was appointed assistant demonstrator in experimental physics at Cavendish Laboratory. In 1924 he proved the existence of the first ionospheric layer. This led to his appointment as Wheatstone Professor of Physics at London University (1924-36). In 1936 he returned to Cambridge as Jacksonian Professor of Natural Philosophy. He became secretary to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in 1939 and in 1949 became Principal and Vice-chancellor of Edinburgh University.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1927, appointed president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1953, knighted in 1941 and was awarded the Nobel Prize of Physics in 1947 for his contributions to 'exploring the ionosphere'.