Physicist and radio astronomer;
Born: August 31, 1913; Died: August 6, 2012.
Sir Bernard Lovell, who has died aged 98, was a celebrated physicist and radio astronomer famous for popularising science and for being the founder and first director of the Jodrell Bank observatory in Cheshire.
A hugely ambitious and controversial 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.
He was born in 1913 in Oldland Common, Gloucestershire, into a cricket-loving and deeply religious family. The sport was a life-long passion but true to his roots he never played or watched the game on Sundays.
He was educated at Kingswood Grammar School, Bristol, and then studied physics at Bristol University and stayed on to take a doctorate. In 1936 he moved to Manchester University, where he became a member of the university's cosmic ray research team.
During the Second World War he worked for the Air Ministry and led the team that developed H2S radar, the first airborne, ground-scanning radar system, which was used by the RAF from 1943 to detect night fighters and identify targets on the ground.
In use through to the 1990s it was invaluable in seeking out German submarines surfacing at night during the Battle of the Atlantic.
Hitler confessed that "the temporary setback in our U-boat campaign is due to a single technical invention of our enemies". Sir Bernard was appointed OBE in 1946 For his wartime work.
He returned to the Manchester University physics department in 1945 and began work on cosmic rays, using ex-military radar equipment. This led to him taking the equipment to the university's botany site at Jodrell Bank in late 1945 and the idea for the famous telescope was born.
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 250ft-wide landmark in the Cheshire countryside. It is still the third largest steerable telescope in the world and, now named 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.
But its birth was by no means easy. Initially Sir Bernard estimated it would cost around £60,000 to build but the total eventually soared to £670,000 and at one stage he faced possible imprisonment for the alleged overspending of public money.
The facility went live in August 1957 and just two months later all was forgiven when the Soviets launched Sputnik and Jodrell Bank was the only telescope in the western hemisphere capable of tracking it. The detection of Sputnik and its carrier rocket – the first inter-continental ballistic missile – silenced his critics.
He was knighted in 1961 and director of Jodrell Bank from 1945 to 1980. Manchester University appointed him senior lecturer in 1947, reader in 1949 and then finally professor of radio astronomy in 1951, a position he held until 1980.
He wrote many books about Jodrell Bank and astronomy in general, including Radio Astronomy (1952), The Exploration of Outer Space (1961), The Story of Jodrell Bank (1968), Emerging Cosmology (1980) and an autobiography, Astronomer by Chance (1990). He also took part in the 1958 BBC Reith Lectures, in which he spoke about The Individual And The Universe.
In 1960 the telescope caught the first glimpse of quasars, the super-dense regions in the centre of massive galaxies surrounding supermassive black holes. Almost two-thirds of all known pulsars, highly magnetised, rotating neutron stars that emit beams of electromagnetic radiation, have also been discovered by Jodrell Bank astronomers.
When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon in June 1969, Sir Bernard revealed the Russians had attempted to steal a march on Apollo 11 by landing their own unmanned space probe, which had crashed on the moon shortly before the Americans arrived.
He served as vice-president, then president, of the Lancashire County Cricket Club and in 1985 was drafted in by the Test and County Cricket Board to investigate electronic aids for umpires.
He married, in 1937, Mary Chesterman, who died in 1993. They had two sons and three daughters. He is survived by four of his five children, 14 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
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