R.I.P. Sir Sam Edwards

I’ve only found out this morning that Professor Sir Sam Edwards passed away last week, on 7th May 2015 at the age of 87. Although I didn’t really know him at all on a personal level, I did come across him when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge in the 1980s, so I thought I would post a brief item to mark his passing and to pay my respects.

Sam Edwards taught a second-year course at Cambridge to Physics students,entitled Analytical Dynamics as a component of Part IB Advanced Physics. It would have been in 1984 that I took it. If memory serves, which is admittedly rather unlikely, this lecture course was optional and intended for those of us who intended to follow theoretical physics Part II, i.e. in the third year.
I have to admit that Sam Edwards was far from the best lecturer I’ve ever had, and I know I’m not alone in that opinion. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, his lectures were largely incomprehensible and attendance at them fell sharply after the first few. They were, however, based on an excellent set of typewritten notes from which I learned a lot. It wasn’t at all usual for lecturers to hand out printed lecture notes in those days, but I am glad he did. In fact, I still have them now. Here is the first page:


It’s quite heavy stuff, but enormously useful. I have drawn on a few of the examples contained in his handout for my own lectures on related concepts in theoretical physics, so in a sense my students are gaining some benefit from his legacy.

At the time I was an undergraduate student I didn’t know much about the research interests of the lecturers, but I was fascinated to read in his Guardian obituary how much he contributed to the theoretical development of the field of soft condensed matter, which includes the physics of polymers. In those days – I was at Cambridge from 1982 to 1985 – this was a relatively small part of the activity in the Cavendish laboratory but it has grown substantially over the years.

I feel a bit guilty that I didn’t appreciate more at the time what a distinguished physicist he was, but he undoubtedly played a significant part in the environment at Cambridge that gave me such a good start in my own scientific career and was held in enormously high regard by friends and colleagues at Cambridge and beyond.

Rest in peace, Sir Sam Edwards (1928-2015).

4 Responses to “R.I.P. Sir Sam Edwards”

  1. Long-time reader, first-time commenter:

    Would it be difficult to scan these lecture notes and post them as a .pdf file? I suspect most modern scanners will give an output .pdf file which is rather large to post on a website (this is common for scanned documents); however, you can compress this afterwards with a number of websites, e.g. http://smallpdf.com/compress-pdf

    Also, you could scan it as a .djvu file. Let us know!

    • telescoper Says:

      I could do that easily, but I don’t own the copyright on them so am nervous of putting them up in full…

      Also I’m not sure the old typeface will scan very well.

      • That’s understandable. However, I wonder: is it clear-cut in this casewho owns the copyright? Is it Cambridge, the estate of Sir Edwards? What exactly are the terms for 30+ year-old lectures?

        I suspect posting them in entirety will be fine, and you won’t be sued into penury 🙂

    • Phillip Helbig Says:

      Large file? Yes, storage is cheap these days, but it is still a pain when files are orders of magnitude larger than they should be. (Just yesterday, I read about someone wanting to convert LaTeX to HTML and for some reason decided to use PDF as an intermediate format—but I digress.)

      This sounds like a job for OCR, with the final file being a text file.

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