OBITUARY : Caroline Fraser

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The Independent Online
Woman physicists are rare. Caroline Fraser made a distinguished contribution to her subject, while her vehement generosity of character lit every institution or circle with which she was associated.

After St Paul's Girls' School, she was awarded a scholarship to read Physics at Somerville College, Oxford, and in 1977 took a First, followed by a DPhil in 1981 and a year at the Particle Physics Laboratory in Annecy, where she both wrote and lectured.

In 1982 she took up a Junior Research Fellowship at Somerville and began to work with Ian Aitchison of Worcester College, who describes her as one of the strongest researchers he has worked with. In one of her most widely cited papers, Fraser contributed to work on Skyrmions, a kind of soliton (a soliton is a wave that maintains its form during interactions, and hence has particle-like properties; it is one of the mathematical outcomes of particle theory). She was able to replace a complex and laborious calculation based on Feynman diagrams (invented by the American physicist Richard Feynman to represent cases where the mathematics became too fiendishly complex) with a clever and beautiful algebraic procedure adopted by many physicists subsequently.

In 1985 she moved to Imperial College London, where she became engrossed in statistical mechanics, and in 1987 was appointed the first Worcester- Somerville joint Lecturer in Physics. She also became an Open University Tutor.

From then on, she devoted herself primarily to teaching. She had already started work with Brian Buck, one of her old tutors, on an advanced undergraduate textbook on statistical mechanics, which involved her in reconsidering many received arguments: it was almost complete at the time of her death.

From 1987 she held lectureships at eight Oxford colleges and taught pupils from at least three others. Her meticulous preparation and marking were matched by her expository talents, but she never lost her faith that the point of tutorials was "inspiration". This she communicated, though her decision to teach rather than research would effectively have ruled out her achieving any permanent academic appointment.

This courageous vocational commitment to insecurity was characteristic. Caroline Fraser's distinctive, elegant, idiosyncratic stylishness - multi- coloured fingernails and hair cut in the manner of Louise Brooks, whom she somewhat resembled - expressed her fascination with living as an art. She was a good musician, spoke and read French, German and Russian, and was startlingly knowledgeable about world literature major and minor. Her genius for friendship made her London flat a nesting-place for many of her migrant generation, and her own extensive travels, professional and personal, always resulted in further friendships.

More than most, she shaped her life with artistic and moral sensibility until, after a holiday in South Africa, she developed the undiagnosed malaria from which she died in Christ Church, Oxford, at the age of 40, more bitterly regretted by her friends and colleagues than she could ever have anticipated.

Caroline Mary Fraser, physicist: born London 19 December 1955; died Oxford 29 January 1996.

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