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Lady Joan Elizabeth Strothers Curran (26 February 1916 – 10 February 1999) was a Welsh scientist. She and her husband, Sir Samuel Curran, played important roles in the defence of the allied forces of World War II.
Joan Elizabeth Strothers was born on 26 February 1916 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 Women's 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 in Cambridge, 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 Curran married on 7 November 1940. Soon afterwards they were transferred to the Telecommunications Research Establishment near Swanage, 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 'Window' ('chaff' is another name for it). She did so, as reported by R.V. Jones in his book Most Secret War, by cutting up strips of tinfoil which would be scattered in the path of enemy planes, thus disrupting their radar. 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 the Manhattan Project - the development of the atomic bomb. It was there that Joan gave birth to a daughter, Sheena, who was born severely mentally handicapped.
When they returned to Glasgow, the Currans, 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.
While her husband was Principal of Strathclyde University, Joan Curran founded the Strathclyde Women's Group and became its president. She promoted a 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.
She died on 10 February 1999. Her daughter, Sheena, three sons and three grandsons survived her.
- Adapted from her obituary, written by Professor Bill Fletcher of the University of Strathclyde, for the Glasgow Herald, Tuesday 16 February 1999
- 19 February 1999 obituary in The Independent by Tam Dalyell
- Latham, Colin & Stobbs, Anne: Pioneers of Radar (1999, Sutton, England) ISBN 0-7509-2120-X (Contributions from Sir Samuel & Lady Curran, pp 194–196)
- R.V. Jones account of the development of radar countermeasures during WWII, Most Secret War.
- History of ENABLE Scotland (formerly known as the Scottish Society for the Mentally Handicapped).