R.I.P. Tony Hewish (1924-2021)

It’s a grim day when I have three R.I.P. posts on this blog, but I learned this afternoon via email that Nobel Prize winning Cambridge radio astronomer Antony Hewish has passed away on 13th September this year at the age of 97. You can read a full obituary at his college website here so I’ll keep my own remarks brief.

Tony Hewish was one of the pioneering generation of radio astronomers who were involved with the development of radar during World War 2 and went on to apply the knowledge they had gained to explore the Universe. He is most famous for winning the 1974 Nobel Prize for Physics (jointly with Martin Ryle) for the discovery of pulsars. Although the Nobel Foundation were clearly wrong not to give a share to Jocelyn Bell Burnell (who actually made the discovery). Indeed I would argue that Hewish should have declined the award unless Jocelyn Bell Burnell had been included. These errors should not however detract from Hewish’s scientific achievement in conceiving and constructing the Interplanetary Scintillation Array with which the discovery was made.

I’ll just add on a personal note that when I was a final-year undergraduate student at Cambridge (in the Lent Term in 1985) I took what was called a Major Option in Observational Cosmology which was lectured by Tony Hewish. As a matter of fact I still have the notes. Here’s the file opened at a random page:

It’s very out of date now, of course. A lot has happened in cosmology since 1985! At the time, though, I enjoyed the course very much and that affected my choice of potential areas in which to do my PhD. Although I ended up doing Theoretical rather than Observational Cosmology, at Sussex rather than at Cambridge, this course of lectures played a big part in me starting out on a career in that field.

Rest in peace Tony Hewish (1924-2021).

5 Responses to “R.I.P. Tony Hewish (1924-2021)”

  1. I was interviewed by Prof Hewish for a PhD position at Cambridge way back in 1979. An hour of pretty tough questioning! He knew far more about the honours project I had done – stellar spectroscopy – than I did.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    97 is a good innings. I cannot find anything about his passing on the BBC website, which is a poor show.

    Are Jocelyn Bell and John Bell related? I’ve just twigged that both are from Northern Ireland.

    • They might be. John Bell was born in Belfast while Jocelyn is from Lurgan in County Armagh but these are only 18 miles apart. Jocelyn is a Quaker and I can’t find a reference to John Bell being one.

      Not really relevant but Paul Eddington the actor (Yes, Minister) was related to Arthur Stanley Eddington through their Quaker family.

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