Physicist Sir Bernard Lovell dies


Celebrated physicist and radio astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell has died at the age of 98, the University of Manchester said today.

Sir Bernard was the university's Emeritus Professor of Radioastronomy and the founder and first director of Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire.

In a statement, the university said his "legacy is immense" and added that he was "a great man, he will be sorely missed".

Jodrell Bank is dominated by the 250ft (76m) Lovell Telescope, conceived by Sir Bernard.

He began working with engineer Sir Charles Husband to build the telescope in 1945 and it has since become a symbol of British science and engineering and a landmark in the Cheshire countryside.

A hugely ambitious project at the time, the telescope was by far the world's largest when it was completed in 1957 and within days tracked the rocket that carried Sputnik 1 into orbit, marking the dawn of the space age.

It is still the third largest steerable telescope in the world and a series of upgrades mean it is now more capable than ever, observing phenomena undreamed of when it was first conceived.

Today, the Lovell Telescope plays a key role in world-leading research on pulsars, testing our understanding of extreme physics including Einstein's general theory of relativity, the university said.

Last year, Jodrell Bank Observatory was placed on the UK Government's shortlist for World Heritage Site status, recognising its important role in research and education.

Sir Bernard is survived by four of his five children, 14 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

A tribute published on the Jodrell Bank website said: "In person, Sir Bernard was warm and generous.

"He retained a keen interest in the development of science at Jodrell Bank and beyond.

"Indeed he continued to come in to work at the Observatory until quite recently when ill-health intervened.

"Outside the world of science he was an accomplished musician, playing the organ at the Swettenham Church for many years.

"He was also a keen cricketer, captain of the Chelford Cricket Club and past president of the Lancashire County Cricket Club.

"He was also renowned internationally for his passion for arboriculture, creating arboretums at both The Quinta and Jodrell Bank itself.

"Sir Bernard's legacy is immense, extending from his wartime work to his pioneering contributions to radio astronomy and including his dedication to education and public engagement with scientific research.

"A great man, he will be sorely missed."

Sir Bernard wrote many books about Jodrell Bank and astronomy in general, notable among which was The Story of Jodrell Bank, published in 1968.

He took part in the 1958 BBC Reith Lectures in which he spoke about The Individual And The Universe.

A book of condolence will be opened at the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre on August 7 and an online version will also be available.

Funeral arrangements will be announced later.

Born in 1913 in Oldland Common, Gloucestershire, Sir Bernard studied at the University of Bristol before arriving at Manchester University to work in the Department of Physics in 1936.

During the Second World War, he led the team that developed H2S radar, work for which he was later awarded the OBE.

Sir Bernard returned to the Manchester Physics Department in 1945 and began work on cosmic rays using ex-military radar equipment.

He took the equipment to the university's botany site at Jodrell Bank in late 1945 and the idea for the famous telescope was born.

Sir Bernard, who was knighted in 1961, was director of Jodrell Bank from 1945 to 1980.

The university said: "Over the last seven decades, many hundreds of scientists and engineers have worked and trained at Jodrell Bank, often going on to work at other observatories across the world.

"Jodrell Bank has also inspired generations of schoolchildren who have visited the Observatory to pursue careers in science, engineering and medicine."

Physicist Professor Brian Cox, who presented the BBC's Wonders of the Universe, tweeted about Sir Bernard: "I met him many times - a great man.

"Jodrell Bank (home of Stargazing) is his scientific legacy."