PIONEERING physicist and practical engineer John Coupland has died, age 89.

Mr Coupland lived in Abingdon for most of his adult life, and worked at Rutherford Laboratory, where he was a principal scientific officer.

His projects included the design of a gradient field mass spectrometer for the nuclear physics department at the University of Oxford and the neutron beam injection heating system for a project at Culham.

John Herbert Coupland was born on March 20, 1926, in York to parents Herbert, a clerk with the city council, and Mabel, a schoolmistress.

He had one younger sister, Gabrielle who died in 1984.

As a boy he attended Archbishop Holgate’s Junior School from 1931 to 1936 and then Bootham School in York from 1936 to 1943.

He left Bootham in 1943, aged 17, to study natural sciences at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, going up early the summer before term started to ensure he got a good start.

His studies were interrupted at one point and he spent a year working at Metropolitan Vickers vast industrial site in Manchester to contribute to the war effort.

He then studied for a PhD at the University of London, becoming a doctor of science in Engineering.

In 1946 he started work as a research student, to advance the subject of electron microscopy, at King’s College in London before becoming an assistant lecturer in 1952, and then a lecturer in 1954.

In 1956 he became a senior physicist at the Atomic Power Division, English Electric Company based just outside Leicester. While here he led the physics and futures team working on reactor design under Paul Heinz Wolff, the division’s chief engineer.

Mr Wolff had assembled a talented team to develop the technology and tender for contracts for the design and construction of Britain’s first commercial nuclear power stations.

In 1960 he moved to Rutherford Laboratory in Oxfordshire and became a principal scientific officer.

Here, he joined a team building a Variable Energy Cyclotron (VEC), an experimental physics “machine” enabling the studying of nuclear particle behaviour.

His work evolved over years and included the publication of many papers.

His work on magnet design, first published as an internal booklet for Rutherford Laboratory colleagues in March 1969, strongly influenced later developments.

Later projects included the design of a gradient field mass spectrometer for the nuclear physics department at Oxford University and the Neutron Beam Heating Injection System for the Joint European Torus Fusion project at Culham in Oxfordshire.

He was also part of the Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC), awarding and supervising research grants to British Universities, and retired in 1987.

In the late 1950s Mr Coupland met Jean Fairfax Scott and they got married in 1964.

They lived together in Westfields, Abingdon and had two sons Christopher John and Robert Charles.

Outside work and family life, Mr Coupland’s hobbies were reading The Guardian newspaper, listening to the wireless, making and mending things and taking trips to the seaside, especially Torquay and Swanage.

Mr Coupland died in his sleep on December 7, in Abingdon.

He is survived by his wife of 51 years Jean, and sons Christopher, 48 and Robert, 47, as well as grandchildren Naomi, nine, Hettie, seven, Barnaby, five, and Felicity, three.

His funeral will be held at South Oxfordshire Crematorium, on the A338 at Garford, near Abingdon, at 2pm tomorrow.