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Sir Bernard Lovell, 1913-2012

Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 August 2012 15:56
Published on Tuesday, 07 August 2012 15:04

Sir Bernard Lovell OBE FRS, world renowned radio astronomer and former President of the Royal Astronomical Society, has died aged 98.

Born in 1913 in Oldland Common, Gloucestershire, Sir Bernard studied at the University of Bristol before coming to the University of Manchester to work in the Department of Physics in 1936. During the Second World War, Sir Bernard led the team that developed H2S radar, work for which he was later awarded the OBE.

After the war Sir Bernard began work on cosmic rays using ex-military radar equipment. He brought this equipment to the University of Manchester botany site at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire in late 1945, founding the world-famous Observatory which now exists there.

Jodrell Bank is dominated by the 76-metre Lovell Telescope, conceived by Sir Bernard. He worked with engineer Sir Charles Husband to build the telescope which has become an icon of British science and engineering and a landmark in the Cheshire countryside.

A hugely ambitious project, 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. It is still the third largest steerable telescope in the world and a series of upgrades mean it is now more capable than ever, observing phenomena undreamt of when it was first conceived.

The telescope and Observatory continue to play a key role in astronomical research. Jodrell Bank is now home to the e-MERLIN array of seven radio telescopes spread across the UK and is the headquarters for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), set to become the most sensitive radio telescope ever constructed and due to commence full operations in 2024.

Sir Bernard was President of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1969-1971 and in 1981 his immense contribution to astronomy was recognised with the award of the Society's Gold Medal.

Prof. David Southwood, current President of the Royal Astronomical Society, said: "Sir Bernard was truly one of the giants of British astronomy and space science, an iconic figure who was one of the pioneers of radio astronomy and of the space age. Thanks to his efforts, the UK has been a world leader in this field for more than six decades, a legacy that will continue with our involvement in the Square Kilometre Array."

'Sir Bernard was an iconic figure; a man who helped us to see the universe in an entirely new way and whose work allowed us to make some of the key discoveries of the modern age".

Jodrell Bank: Sir Bernard Lovell