Sir Bernard Lovell, Jodrell Bank Observatory founder, dies aged 98

posted 2012-08-07 15:59:09 by tboz

Physicist and radio astronomer who helped build one of world's largest telescopes dies aged 98

The celebrated physicist and radio astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell has died at the age of 98, the University of Manchester has announced.

Lovell, who died on Monday night, was the university's emeritus professor of radio astronomy and the founder and first director of Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire.

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

Jodrell Bank is dominated by the 76-metre (250ft) Lovell telescope, conceived by the astronomer.

Lovell began working with the 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 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 means it is now more capable than ever, observing phenomena undreamed of when it was first conceived. The telescope plays a key role in world-leading research on pulsars, testing our understanding of extreme physics including Einstein's general theory of relativity.

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

Born in 1913 in Oldland Common, Gloucestershire, Lovell 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 an OBE.

Lovell returned to Manchester's physics department in 1945 and began work on cosmic rays, using ex-military radar equipment.

A tribute to Lovell 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.

"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."

Lovell, 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."

A book of condolence for Lovell was to be opened at the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre on Tuesday and an online version will also be made available.

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