Astronomer who developed Jodrell telescope
BERNARD LOVELL:THE RADIO astronomer and physicist Bernard Lovell, who has died aged 98, was known worldwide for developing the 76m (250ft) radio telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire.
Completed in 1957, the telescope – known initially as Mark 1 and renamed the Lovell Telescope on its 30th anniversary – continues to make huge contributions to the science of astronomy.
Work on its foundations began in 1952. The cost was to be shared between the Nuffield Foundation and the British government’s department of scientific and industrial research. Originally estimated at £335,000, the telescope eventually cost about twice that figure. It led to an investigation by the public accounts committee and to the University of Manchester being placed in debt by some £130,000.
A considerable factor in the escalating cost was the consultant engineer Charles Husband’s concern for the structural stability of the telescope. When, in subsequent years, two large radio telescopes in other parts of the world collapsed, all in a moment, into twisted masses of steel, Husband’s concern was proven justified.
As if by a miracle, once up and running, the Mark 1 telescope was the only instrument that could both detect the first Soviet and American satellites and transmit instructions to them. Amazing as it now seems, the need for such a telescope had escaped both the telecommunications industry and military leaders of both superpowers.
Despite its spectacular success, which included tracking the Sputnik 1 satellite mission in 1957, the government did nothing to alter the remaining debt, being bound by the iron restraint of treasury rules. It was Lord Nuffield who did so, thereby demonstrating the superiority of aristocratic, rather than state support, to science – and indeed to all intellectual activity, a view which Lovell expressed frequently and forcefully to the end of his life.
He was born in Gloucestershire. His father was a keen amateur musician and his mother came from a family of cricketers. Music and cricket remained Bernard’s passions. His interest in science appears to have been kindled at a public lecture given by AM Tyndall, professor of physics at Bristol University, where Lovell later received a first-class degree in physics in 1934. By 1936 he had completed his work for his PhD.
In 1937, Lovell married Mary Joyce Chesterman.
His work on cosmic rays under PMS Blackett was interrupted by the second World War during which, at the Telecommunications Research Establishment, Lovell worked with distinction, first on radar interceptors for night fighters, then on centimetric radar for the detection of submarines and, ultimately, on the H2S radar used by British bombers. As a churchman, the latter activity was to be a matter of conscience to Lovell for the rest of his life.
He is survived by four of his five children, 14 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. His wife died in 1993. –
Alfred Charles Bernard Lovell: born August 31st, 1913; died August 6th, 2012