Theoretical physicist

Born: March 14, 1926;

Died: October 3, 2016

PROFESSOR Gordon Moorhouse, who has died aged 90, was an Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Glasgow and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Although born in Yorkshire and much-travelled as an academic, he spent most of his career at Glasgow, initially as a lecturer and later as professor, commuting from his home in Rhu outside Helensburgh. Particle physics was one of his specialties and he became internationally known as a writer and speaker on the subject, which he summed up in his book The Pion-Nucleon System, co-written with Professor Brian Bransden of the University of Durham.

He was also a passionate researcher into Higgs particles, supergravity, astrophysics and cosmology, big words most of us may not understand but scientists like Prof Moorhouse need to. It is about how the universe started, how it developed and therefore about its future and ours.

"This was a significant time for elementary particle physics," Prof Moorhouse's lifelong colleague and friend Dr Andrew Davies of the University of Glasgow said in a eulogy in Cardross, near Helensburgh. "Even chemists were familiar with protons, neutrons and electrons, but the new accelerators and analysis of data by Gordon and others revealed a whole new zoo of particles. Attempts to arrange these particles into orderly ranks led others to the present day theory that we and almost everything we know are made out of a few types of Lego bricks called quarks." Again, hard for most of us to understand but crucial to scientific understanding of our world.

Robert Gordon Moorhouse, always known as Gordon, was born in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire to Gilbert Moorhouse, an electrical engineer surveyor, and Isabella (née McCreath). The couple had a second son, Geoffrey, who died as a baby when Gordon was two, leaving him to grow up an only child.

His mother, widely known as Izzy and a skilled bridge player, died of Hodgkin's disease in 1939 when he was 13. His father remarried (Annie Taylor) two years later and she and his beloved aunt Beatrice, his father's sister, took care of him.

From 1937-44, he attended Huddersfield College, a boy's secondary school, but his father could not afford to send him to university and suggested he go into the insurance industry, an increasingly lucrative job at the time. But with the help of supportive schoolteachers, he won a state scholarship to Trinity College at the University of Cambridge, where he attained an MA in maths and a PhD in theoretical physics.

After Cambridge, his first academic position was as a lecturer in theoretical physics at the University of Glasgow, where he met Peggy Gee, a girl who had been born in Frankfurt, Germany, but moved to Glasgow aged 10 in 1934 with her parents during the rise of Hitler. She was working as a secretary and librarian at the University and she and Gordon married in 1953, had a son, Martin Peter (always known as Peter or Pete) in 1957 and lived at 156 Kenilworth Avenue in the Waverly Park area of Glasgow, as did Peggy's father Walther.

Gordon and Peggy Moorhouse were smitten by Glasgow and Glaswegians but before they got a chance to settle, his expertise took him, with his wife and son, to postings down south and overseas. In 1960, he worked at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva and from 1961-67 he was at the National Institute for Research in Nuclear Science near Didcot. That spell included a break to San Francisco, where Prof Moorhouse was a research associate at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, a research facility run by Stanford University.

In 1967, it was back to the University of Glasgow and the family moved to "the countryside," living on Empress Road in Rhu, with Prof Moorhouse commuting to the city. He named his house Arunden after the farm near Huddersfield where his father and auntie Beatrice had grown up. Another break from Glasgow came in 1970-71 when Prof Moorhouse held a visiting post at the University of Berkeley, California, where his son Peter attended Berkeley High School. It was a tumultuous time, with the University of Berkeley a hotbed of protest against the ongoing Vietnam war and the California police in no mood to compromise.

It was a relief for the family to get back to Rhu. Appointed Professor in Theoretical Physics at Glasgow, he was soon elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Peter's sudden death after a heart attack in 2005 was a devastating blow to his father. Prof Moorhouse was left with his wife Peggy, daughter-in-law Dolores and grandchildren Francesca and Max. The same year, however, he was thrilled when Peggy, a guide organiser for Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, was honoured with the Lord Provost's award for Voluntary Service to the City of Glasgow. Peggy, his wife of 61 years, passed away in 2014.

Prof Moorhouse remained alone at his home on Empress Road, Rhu, regularly visited by his daughter-in-law and his grandchildren and surrounded by his books until ill health forced him to move into Balquidder House care home in Alexandria, near Dumbarton, where he died peacefully on October 3.

"The first and most obvious adjective that comes to mind when thinking of Gordon is intellectual – and not just in maths and physics," his daughter-in-law Dolores said at his funeral in Cardross. "He displayed an ability and deep knowledge in a range of subjects and his acute observations demonstrated the breadth of his intellectual prowess – from French literature to history. He continued his subscription to the fortnightly New York Review of Books and numerous other publications until this year.

"He enjoyed a well-constructed gin & tonic and was a life-long member of the Wine Society. Of course, like most things in which he developed an interest, he became rather an expert in wine. He could also be stubborn and was certainly resilient. Despite having recovered from a life-threatening bout of septicaemia aged 85, he insisted on driving around Helensburgh, almost driving right into the Royal Bank of Scotland in Colquhoun Square."

Prof Moorhouse's longtime colleague and friend Dr Andrew Davies added: "After retirement, in his 70s, Gordon continued work on astrophysics, to see how different scenarios immediately after the Big Bang would produce observable effects on the cosmic microwave background and gravitational waves. For many years he was an editor of the journal Nuclear Physics."

Prof Moorhouse is survived by his daughter-in law Dolores Moorhouse and grandchildren Francesca and Max.