Nolan, John James (‘J. J.’) (1888–1952), experimental physicist and academic, was born 28 December 1888 in Railway Tce, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, eldest among four sons and one daughter of Martin Nolan, member of the RIC, originally from Co. Roscommon, and Bridget Nolan (née Owens), from Co. Fermanagh. Educated at national schools in Stewardstown and Dromore, CBS Omagh, St Macartan's College, Monaghan, and St Patrick's Academy, Dungannon, he won (1906) a bishop's scholarship to UCD on the basis of his intermediate examination results. Graduating with a BA in experimental science (1909), and an MA (1910), he was appointed an assistant in physics on the recommendation of his mentor, Professor J. A. McClelland (qv), and in 1917 was awarded a doctorate for his published works on the electrification of water. On McClelland's death (1920) he succeeded him as professor of experimental physics at UCD, where he was considered a brilliant teacher. His field of expertise was atmospheric electricity, and his principal research was carried out on the electric charge on rain, equilibrium of ionisation in the lower atmosphere, mobility of ions, and precipitation. Much of his research was carried out in collaboration with his brother, P. J. Nolan (qv), and the atmospheric research group became known internationally as the ‘Nolan School’. One of his students was Dr James Drumm (qv), inventor of a battery for traction, a project with which Nolan assisted him in its early stages. In February 1933 while conducting research at a remote meteorological station in Glencree, Co. Wicklow, he was marooned by a snowstorm; a message was broadcast over 2RN warning him not to attempt the return journey to Dublin and he was eventually rescued by the army. On hearing of his plight, Éamon de Valera (qv) and his sons also rode out on horseback to his rescue.
Elected to the NUI senate (1924) and to the governing body of UCD (1926), in 1940 he became registrar of UCD, a post that he held till his death. In 1947 he was unexpectedly defeated by Michael Tierney (qv) in the contest for the presidency of UCD by the vote of the senate of the NUI, notwithstanding his being the preferred candidate of UCD's academic council and governing body.
A member of the RIA from 1920, he served as its secretary (1923–49), helping to secure the future of the academy in the new Irish state, and encouraged the government to increase funding of the institution, enabling it to undertake a number of new projects. His effectiveness as secretary militated against his election as president of the RIA, a position he did not achieve till 1949: ‘his scientific distinction should have led to his election at an earlier date, but he was such an admirable secretary that it was felt desirable to retain him in this position as long as possible’ (RIA, Minutes. . . 1952–3, 6). In March 1950 the government appointed him chairman of the governing body of the school of cosmic physics at the DIAS, a position he held till his resignation on health grounds in February 1952. He was also a member of the RDS's committee of sciences and of the science section of the society's council. On 18 April 1952 he collapsed and died while lecturing in UCD, having suffered from a heart condition. He left an estate of £4,513.
He married (1914) Teresa Hurley, a fellow student at UCD, originally from Coomhola, Bantry, Co. Cork. They lived at Lugnaquilla, 26 Cowper Rd, Rathmines, with their four sons, Cormac, Colm, Eoin, and Niall; Dr Colm Nolan was killed in an aeroplane crash in Australia while serving with the Royal Navy during the second world war.
Patrick J. (‘Paddy’) Nolan (1894–1984), physicist and younger brother of J. J. Nolan, was born 11 August 1894 in Omagh, Co. Tyrone and educated at CBS Omagh. He entered UCD on an entrance scholarship and also studied physics under McClelland, receiving his B.Sc. (1914) with first-class honours and first place and a postgraduate scholarship. After his M.Sc. (1915) he was awarded a travelling scholarship, but due to the first world war he had to spend two years in Dublin before eventually working in the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, under the distinguished physicists Sir J. J. Thompson and Sir Ernest Rutherford. In 1920 he returned to Dublin as assistant in the department of experimental physics in UCD, the same year his brother was appointed professor. Two years later (1922) he received his Ph.D., and in 1929 he was appointed lecturer. The following year (1930) he received his D.Sc. (NUI). Similarly to his brother he carried out research in atmospheric physics, and his earlier work related to the nature of ions produced by bubbling and the recombination of ions in air. In the 1930s he published papers on the influence of condensation nuclei and dust particles on atmospheric ionisation, diffusion coefficients of nuclei, and the equilibrium of small ions and nuclei in the atmosphere. His greatest contribution to this field was the development of the photoelectric nucleus counter which he designed with L. W. Pollak (1946). This became the standard instrument for measuring condensation nuclei in the atmosphere, and bears both their names. Overall he published fifty scientific papers. Apart from his research work he was involved in lecturing and was responsible for the running of the physics laboratories in UCD. In 1954 he was awarded a personal chair as professor of geophysics, a post that he retained till his retirement (1964).
Outside his research programme he was involved with numerous committees as member of the governing board of the school of cosmic physics at the DIAS, member of the national committee of geodesy and geophysics, and member of the RDS committee of science and its industrial applications; elected MRIA in 1927, he was a council member, secretary of the science committee (1963–6), and vice-president (1954–7, 1959–62). He received an honorary Sc.D. from Dublin in 1971, and the following year was awarded the Boyle Medal by the RDS.
Unusually, he married the sister of his brother's wife, Una Hurley of Bantry, Co. Cork. They had no children. He had two addresses in Dublin: 65 St Stephen's Green (till 1937) and afterwards 35 Eglinton Rd, Donnybrook. His interests were sport, bridge, and reading. He died 28 December 1984 in Dalkey, Co. Dublin, aged 90.