Lives Remembered: Professor Robin Bullough

Robert Keith Bullough ("Robin"), who has died at the age of 78, was a mathematical physicist best known as one of the discoverers of the soliton, a remarkable kind of self-reinforcing and solitary wave. Bullough proposed the idea of a soliton-based transmission system to increase performance of optical telecommunications and this is now commonly used in trans-oceanic optical fibre communication. His discoveries also led to revolutions in nonlinear mathematics and nonlinear physics and may ultimately play a role in the new sciences of quantum computing.

Bullough, whose parents were Quakers, attended Newcastle High School before leaving at 16 with a scholarship to Emmanuel College, Cambridge. National Service in the RAF intervened in 1948-49 and just three days before demobilisation he was blinded in one eye. Nevertheless, he went on to study a BA in Natural Sciences. This led to postgraduate work at Leeds and a first job in rayon research. In 1961 he moved to a lectureship at UMIST and was promoted to the Chair of Mathematical Physics in 1973. Since his retirement in 1995 he had held a position as Emeritus Professor at Manchester University.

Bullough was a great traveller, starting with pre-war holidays with his parents in the Austrian Alps, at a time when overseas travel was unknown to most. He was to develop a passion for mountaineering and had a particular fascination for the early Victorian alpinists, building a remarkable collection of books from this era. However, in the early 1970s Bullough developed chronic asthma, which severely curtailed physical activity.

Nonetheless, he travelled widely across Europe, the Middle East, the Americas, India, the Soviet Union and China before the economic boom. He was impressed by the intellectual talent he found in the developing world and became mentor to many international students. His journeys could never have been undertaken without the unstinting support of his wife and travel companion, Louise, who was a native of Denmark. This was a country to figure prominently in his early career; he worked in Copenhagen with Léon Rosenfeld, one of the pioneers of modern quantum mechanics.

Bullough's extensive work led him towards novel problems in nonlinear and quantum optics. He discovered spectacular phenomena such as transmission of light through a dispersive medium without any attenuation, which became known as self-induced transparency. In addition he worked out conditions under which light can essentially be brought to a standstill by interaction with a dispersive medium. He was very much ahead of his time: these problems only became fashionable 30 years later.

In recognition of his work he was honoured to give the Special Foundation Lecture at the Quantum Electronics and Photonics Conference held at the University of Manchester in 1999. Only Steven Chu, Nobel Laureate and recently nominated Energy Secretary in the new Obama administration, was similarly honoured at this conference.

From being one of the founders of soliton theory, Bullough continued to work on associated problems for the rest of his career, even having ideas on quantum computing; but in this area he did not have time to realise his dreams. While Bullough continued to work hard almost to the end of his life, in his last two years the onset of dementia made it increasingly difficult to remain focused. He leaves a wife and two sons.

Patrick Bullough

If you would like to contribute an obituary of a friend, colleague or family member, please send a piece of no more than 500 words to Obituaries, 'The Independent', 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, by fax to 020 7005 2064 or by email to obituaries@independent.co.uk. We re-serve the right to edit copy

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Project Manager

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project Manager job vaca...

Business Analyst (Agile, SDLC, software)

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Marketing Executive, London

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Charter Selection: This highly prestigious luxury b...

SAP BPC Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BPC Consultant - 6 Months - London ...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor