The World’s Oldest Professor?

Yesterday I was sitting at home listening to the radio when someone used the phrase “The World’s Oldest Profession”. Naturally, that made me think of those such as myself who Profess for a living (although that’s apparently not what the original expression applies to). Anyway, that idle thought made me wonder whether there is, in the Guinness Book of Records or elsewhere, a recognized holder of the title World’s Oldest Professor?

A short tweet about this elicited one suggestion: Professor Ephraim Engleman of the University of California at San Francisco who is an extremely distinguished Professor of Rheumatology and is still active at the age of 102. Blimey. That’s going to be a pretty though record to beat, but I thought I’d post about it to see there are any other contenders for (a) the world’s oldest professor in any discipline and (b) the world’s oldest professor in physics and astronomy?

Suggestions through the comments box please.

P.S. Apart from anything else, Prof. Engleman’s inspirational example has made me feel guilty for moaning about the advancing years at the tender age of 50; he’d reached my current age before I was even born!

10 Responses to “The World’s Oldest Professor?”

  1. Monica Grady Says:

    Margaret Burbidge (born 1919), still active, I believe, at UCSD, must be a contender in the physics & astro category.

  2. Professor Yoshio Fujita, a leading japanese astronomer from the University of Tokyo, died early this year at the age of 104. Among his awards, he was a life time member of the RAS, according to his obituary.

    A few years I read his 1941 papers on M-S stars, for my research – I had no idea he was still alive! I only found out that he still lived when I heard he had died.

  3. Robert Gurney Says:

    Walter Munk (Scripps Institute of Oceanography) is still going strong, winning the Crafoord Prize in 2010 and giving a very up-to-date lecture in response. He is 96. He is a physicist who has made major advances in physical oceanography. His most recent single author paper, in the Journal of Geophysical Research, was in 2012, but he has more recent joint papers.
    Cassini had his 1690 unpublished observations used in a paper in 1997 by Isshe Tabe et al concerning the impact of Shoemaker-Levy on Jupiter, but unfortunately was not around to sign the copyright form.

  4. Alan Penny Says:

    Dr Alan Cousins of the South African Astronomical Observatory published his first paper, on Eta Carina, in MNRAS in 1924 and his last, on Atmospheric extinction of U-B photometry, also in MNRAS in 2001, the year of his death at the age of 97. A publishing lifetime of 75 years.

    • Jan Oort may have beaten this. His first paper was in 1922 and his last one in 2000. His last paper may be questioned, as it was a co-authored paper years after he died. But posthumous publications are not unusual.

      • Alan Penny Says:

        Oort’s 2000 paper was actually a reprint of a public lecture he gave in 1926, with no amendments. His last ‘actual’ paper was in 1992, which leaves Cousins in the lead. (To be picky, there is a 2006 paper by Cousins, but this seems to have been the inclusion of data from a 1971 paper by an on-line data catalogue.)

        BTW, Cousins’s publishing lifetime was 76, not 75, years. June 1924 to May 2001.

      • telescoper Says:

        Was Oort’s paper with the referee for 74 years? Is that a record?

      • Alan Penny Says:

        Albert might know for sure, but it seems that van der Kruit, the first author of the 2000 paper, incorporated an unpublished transcript of Oort’s 1926 lecture as an appendix to his paper

        BTW, Cousins was a grandson of James Murray, the first editor of the OED, and Cousins could remember going to his grandfather’s funeral in 1911. Cousins used to tell the story of being afraid of German submarines when going by boat from England to South Africa during the war – the First World War that is.

    • Keith Smith Says:

      George Herbig seems to have been very close (but just short) of Cousins’ record. Herbig’s first paper was in Popular Astronomy* in April 1938, when he was just 18. His last was in ApJ in March 2012, a span of almost exactly 74 years. He died in October 2013, aged 93. He was active in research until his final few months, so it’s possible there are some other co-author papers still to come. If so, he could pass Cousins.

      *Still ‘refereed’ according to ADS. His next was in PASP in 1940.

      • Keith Smith Says:

        A paper with George Herbig as posthumous second author was just published:….156…25R
        That brings his publishing lifetime to just over 80 years, or 78 years if you don’t count the Popular Astronomy article. Either way, Herbig has overtaken Cousins’ record.

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