Denys Wilkinson was born in Leeds [Yorkshire], on 5 September 1922, the only son of Charles Wilkinson and Hilda Wilkinson (née Haigh). He was educated at Loughborough Grammar School, then Jesus College, Cambridge (where he was a Fellow, 1944-59, and an Honorary Fellow from 1961). Wilkinson graduated in 1943, taking his MA and PhD in 1947 (later becoming ScD, or doctor of science in 1961). In 1947 he married Christiane Andrée Clavier (the marriage was dissolved in 1967), having three daughters; in 1967 Wilkinson then married a second time, to Helen Sellschop, and so also had two step daughters.
After graduation, Wilkinson began his professional career in nuclear physics with British and Canadian Atomic Energy Projects, (1943-46), before returning to Cambridge to work first as a Demonstrator, (1947-51), then as a Lecturer, (1951-56), and finally as Reader in Nuclear Physics, (1956-57). He then moved to the University of Oxford to take up the post of Professor of Nuclear Physics, (1957-59) and then Professor of Experimental Physics, (1959-76). During this period Wilkinson was Head of Oxford's Department of Nuclear Physics, (1962-76), and at the same time a student at Christ Church College (1957-76, Emeritus Student, 1976, Honorary Student, 1979). On leaving Oxford, Wilkinson became Director of the International School of Nuclear Physics, at Erice, Sicily, (1975-83).
Wilkinson was a member of many scientific and academic bodies, including: the Governing Board of the National Institute for Research in Nuclear Science, (1957-63 and 1964-65); the SRC, or Science Research Council (1967-70); Wilton Park Academic Council, (1979-83); Council, Association of Commonwealth Universities, (1980-87); Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, (1983-90, Chairman, Science Scholarships Committee, 1983-90); British Council, (1987, and Chairman, Science Advisory Panel and Committee, 1977-86). He was Chairman of bodies including: Nuclear Physics Board of SRC, (1968-70); Physics III Committee, Centre Europeenne pour la Recherche Nucleaire (1971-75); Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee, (1978-83). He was also President of the Institute of Physics, (1980-82), Vice-President, IUPAP (International Union of Pure and Applied Physics), (1985-93), and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sussex, (1976-87, Emeritus Professor of Physics, 1987). Wilkinson was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1956, and was knighted in 1974.
His publications include: Ionization Chambers and Counters, (1951); (edited) Isospin in Nuclear Physics, (1969); (edited) Progress in Particle and Nuclear Physics, (1978-84); (edited jointly) Mesons in Nuclei, (1979); Our Universes, (1991); papers on nuclear physics and bird navigation.
The papers consist of reports and correspondence on the development of nuclear physics in Britain, including: papers on nuclear physics at Oxford, during the 1950's and 1960's; papers on the National Institute for Research in Nuclear Science, 1957-60's; papers on the Nuclear Physics Board, 1960's; correspondence files, 1950's-1960's; Wilkinson's memoirs on his work at Cambridge and Oxford during the 1950's; some material on the (London) Physics Club.
The papers were deposited at Churchill Archives Centre by Sir Denys Wilkinson in two separate accessions in 1988 and 1992.