Raymond Wilson (physicist)

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Raymond N. Wilson is an English physicist and telescope optics designer. His first degree was in physics from the University of Birmingham, followed by studying engineering at Imperial College London.[1] After completing national service in 1952, he resumed his work on optics.[1]

Wilson worked at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) for over 20 years, from 1972 to 1993, first in Geneva and then in Garching, Germany. Before that, he spent 11 years as Head of the Design Department for telescopes at Carl Zeiss AG in Oberkochen, Germany.[2] He also worked at Imperial College and at the National Physical Laboratory in the UK.[1] His position at the ESO was Head of the Optics and Telescopes Group.[2]

His major contributions have been in telescope optics and technology. In particular, he developed the concept of active optics, which is now the basic principle on which large telescopes are constructed. The concept of active optics was developed first in ESO's New Technology Telescope, and then in ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT).[2]

Wilson retired in 1993, writing a two-volume monograph Reflecting Telescope Optics, a leading work in the field. He also extended the design of large telescopes to the next-generation designs that use three, four, and five mirrors.[2]

The awards bestowed for his work include the Karl Schwarzschild Medal (1993) and a share of the Kavli Prize (2010),[3] as well as the Tycho Brahe Prize (2010).[2] He has also been made Chevalier of the French Legion of Honour (2003)[4] and has received the Prix Lallemand (2005) from the French Academy of Sciences.[5]

Wilson's other interests include history, economics, cosmology and biology.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Ray Wilson section of 2010 Astrophysics Laureate Biographies, Kavli Foundation website, accessed 23/01/2011
  2. ^ a b c d e Tycho Brahe Prize 2010 Awarded to Telescope Designer, press release from the European Astronomical Society, 19 April 2010, accessed 23/01/2011
  3. ^ ESO archive of Raymond Wilson Honoured with Two Prestigious Prizes, The Messenger 142 – December 2010, page 41 (archived version accessed 23/01/2011)
  4. ^ High honour to Ray Wilson [Order of the French Legion of Honour], Richard West, The Messenger, No. 112, p. 56 (June 2003)
  5. ^ Lauréats des Prix de l'Académie de Sciences en 2005, French Academy of Sciences website (in French), accessed 23/01/2011