Obituary: Professor George Bell

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The Independent Online
George MacDonald Bell, theoretical physicist: born 18 June 1925; Junior Lecturer, Oxford University 1948-51; Research Officer, ICI Bellingham 1951-54; Lecturer, Umist 1954-63; Reader in Applied Mathematics, Chelsea College 1963-65, Professor 1965-88; married 1952 Dorothy Easton (two daughters); died Purley, Surrey 14 April 1993.

GEORGE BELL spent his professional life in theoretical physics, and was Emeritus Professor of Applied Mathematics at London University from 1965.

He received his early education chiefly at the Bournemouth School; it was here that I met him, in 1940, and we remained close friends from then up to his death. He was a talented scholar, and his outstanding School Certificate results opened the way to further study in many fields; he chose science. He gained a Postmastership to Merton College, Oxford, in 1944, and took First Class degrees in Physics in 1946 and Mathematics in 1948.

Bell was a Junior Lecturer from 1948 to 1951 and was awarded a D Phil in 1952. This period saw the commencement of what was to be a distinguished career in statistical mechanics where his research, which displayed his considerable talent for physical insight, became noteworthy, and where his teaching was especially marked by clarity and his sympathetic approach to students.

He married Dorothy Easton in 1952, shortly after taking up a post at ICI in Billingham in 1951. But Bell was more at home in an academic environment and in 1954, he accepted a post as a Lecturer in Mathematics at Umist, and moved house from the North-east to Cheshire. He became a Reader in the Mathematics Department of Chelsea College (later merged with King's College and Queen Elizabeth College, London) in 1963, and was appointed a Professor in 1965.

Bell was twice Head of the Mathematics Department at Chelsea College, and was heavily involved in the merger of the colleges; he fought hard for what he saw as the right priorities, and the present harmonious and successful Mathematics Department in King's College is a testament to his efforts.

In addition to his college duties, Bell made a significant contribution to the wider scene; he edited a series of books in his field and was co-author with Dr David Lavis of The Statistical Mechanics of Lattice Models, volume one (1989), and volume two was nearly finished at his death. He published many papers and articles in journals, and he worked as an external examiner. His work, with Dr S. Levine, on electrical double layer theory and colloidal stability, was of particular interest to physical chemists, and he was a Consultant to Unilever from 1963. After his formal retirement in 1988, and his wife's death in 1990, he went into a lower gear, but continued with lecturing and research.

Outside science Bell's interests, whilst mainly intellectual, were catholic, and he had an extensive library on a wide variety of subjects. His knowledge of some aspects of history was almost encyclopaedic and he had a deep interest in the arts. He was a devoted visitor of museums, art galleries and archaeological sites, and he and Dorothy indulged this interest during their many overseas holidays. George Bell was somewhat reserved, and this, with his short sight, could give a false first impression; he was in fact a most generous, witty and kindly man, and an extremely loyal friend.