Professor R. J. Blin-Stoyle

Sussex University founding father
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The Independent Online

Roger John Blin-Stoyle, physicist: born Leicester 24 December 1924; Pressed Steel Research Fellow, Oxford University 1951-53, Senior Research Officer in Theoretical Physics 1952-62; Lecturer in Mathematical Physics, Birmingham University 1953-54; Fellow and Lecturer in Physics, Wadham College, Oxford 1956-62; Professor of Theoretical Physics, Sussex University 1962-90 (Emeritus), Dean, School of Mathematics and Physical Sciences 1962-68, Pro-Vice-Chancellor 1965-67, Deputy Vice-Chancellor 1970-72, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Science) 1977-79; FRS 1976; President, Institute of Physics 1990-92; President, Association for Science Education 1993-94; married 1949 Audrey Balmford (one son, one daughter); died Lewes, East Sussex 31 January 2007.

R. J. Blin-Stoyle was the founding Science Dean of Sussex University, which received its charter in 1961, as the first of seven planned new universities. With science subjects due to begin in October 1962, he spent the preceding year appointing staff, planning academic courses, interviewing prospective undergraduates, even making small detailed changes to the first Science building under construction at the university site in Falmer, just north of Brighton. At the same time, he continued to pursue his full-time occupation as Fellow and Tutor of Wadham College, Oxford.

The academic organisation of the university was radically different from the traditional model. Rather than consisting of the usual departments, each with its own department head and teaching schedule, it was based on Schools of Study, with subjects whose inter- relationship was strongly emphasised.

Blin-Stoyle, a theoretical nuclear physicist, was appointed Dean of the School of Physical Sciences, where the principal subjects studied were Physics, Mathematics and Chemistry; all undergraduates whose major interest was in one of these subjects had to take a minor subject, and to attend a more general course of lectures given by him, "The Structure and Properties of Matter", in which the fundamental interdependence of these subjects was drawn out. This was a rather exacting requirement that tested the abilities of some undergraduates, but proved very successful. Sussex attracted students of the highest calibre, many preferring to go there rather than to long-established universities, including Oxbridge.

The university grew far beyond its original planned size, and acquired a worldwide reputation in both teaching and research. At one time it received more funding in physics research from the Science and Engineering Research Council than any other university in Britain.

Roger John Blin-Stoyle was born in Leicester in 1924, and educated at the Alderman Newton's Boys' School and at Wadham College, Oxford, where he was a Scholar and went on to take a DPhil, researching in the Department of Theoretical Physics at the Clarendon Laboratory. During the Second World War he served as a lieutenant in the Royal Corps of Signals from 1943, returning to Oxford in 1946, where, after graduating, he continued as a Pressed Steel Research Fellow and later as Senior Research Officer in Theoretical Physics. He stayed in Oxford until 1962, except for three periods spent at other institutions.

The first was 1953-54, when he was a Lecturer in Mathematical Physics at Birmingham University; another was as Visiting Professor of Physics at the University of California, La Jolla, in 1960. The most important period, however, was a stimulating sabbatical year, 1959-60, as Visiting Associate Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Then, as he wrote in the book The Sussex Opportunity (1986),

unhappy about the then structure of Oxford physics degree courses and frustrated by the sluggishness of the wheels of change in Oxford, I applied for the post of Professor of Theoretical Physics in this first of the "new" universities.

He never regretted the gamble he took in leaving the security of Oxford to tackle the uncertain task of setting up a new university from scratch. At Sussex, he served as Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Pro-Vice- Chancellor (Science). Nationally, he served on numerous committees, and as President of the Institute of Physics.

Blin-Stoyle made important contributions to theoretical research in nuclear physics, publishing more than a hundred original research papers. His early work, in Oxford, was concerned with the theory of nuclear magnetic moments, on which he wrote a monograph, Theories of Nuclear Moments (1957). His main interests became in the "weak" interaction responsible for beta-decay, and he later wrote Fundamental Interactions and the Nucleus (1973) and Nuclear and Particle Physics (1991). In 1976 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Motivated by a strong interest in general education, in the early years in Sussex he took part in a radio programme in which he answered written questions on science from listeners. After retirement he taught children at his local school in Lewes and took an interest in the local University of the Third Age (U3A) activities. In 1997, he published a popular science book, Eureka!

Roger Blin-Stoyle enjoyed a happy family life, taking holidays at home and abroad by tent and caravan; he was also an accomplished pianist and organist.

D. F. Brewer