Robert d'Escourt Atkinson
Atkinson went to Manchester Grammar School and received a degree in physics from Oxford in 1922. He worked in the Clarendon Laboratory and then went to Göttingen, where he received a Ph.D. in physics in 1928. He taught at Rutgers University from 1929 to 1937, when he became Chief Assistant at the Royal Greenwich Observatory. He stopped working in Greenwich in 1964, when he became a professor at Rutgers, retiring in 1979.
In 1929, Atkinson collaborated with Fritz Houtermans to apply Gamow's quantum tunnelling theory to the process of nuclear fusion in stars. They showed that fusing light nuclei could create energy in accordance with Einstein's formula of mass-energy equivalence, and that heavy nuclei could be built up by a successive series of fusions. Their models were similar to the later CNO cycle. This theory was not accepted at the time as it depended on the idea that stars were mostly hydrogen. Atkinson wrote about this theory again in the 1930s, predicting that the most luminous stars should have a short lifetime. He also proposed that the elements found in the Universe could be built up by fusion in stars, and that white dwarf stars did not need a nuclear source of energy in order to shine. After World War II, he worked on astronomical instrumentation and positional astronomy.
- Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Institute of Navigation.
- Eddington Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society for work on stellar fusion (1960)
- The asteroid 1827 Atkinson is named after him.