William B. Bonnor

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William B. Bonnor
Born (1920-09-13) 13 September 1920 (age 94)
London, England, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Occupation mathematician, physicist
Known for Bonnor beam

William Bowen Bonnor[1][2] is a mathematician and gravitation physicist best known for his research into astrophysics, cosmology and general relativity. For most of his academic career he has been a professor of mathematics at the University of London.

William Bonnor was born in London on 13 September 1920. He was educated at County High School, Ilford, at South East Essex Technical College and at Birkbeck College. His degrees of B.Sc., Ph.D. and D.Sc. were all obtained by part-time study.

On leaving school in 1937 Bonnor served in clerical and executive branches of the Civil Service until 1944, when he became a chemist in the Admiralty, doing development work in paint technology. In 1946 he joined Shell Refining and Marketing Company to work on the rheology of lubricating greases.

His career as a mathematician commenced in 1949 after obtaining a degree in mathematics at Birkbeck College. He joined the Department of Applied Mathematics at the University of Liverpool, where he met his future wife, Jean Stott, a staff tutor in social science. In 1957 he was appointed Reader and head of the mathematics department at Queen Elizabeth College (QEC), University of London. He was promoted to Professor in 1962, and stayed with the College until retirement in 1985.

This period was the golden age of general relativity, and Bonnor played a part in it, particularly in the London Relativity Seminar. This had begun at Imperial College in the 1950s, moved to King's College and then to QEC from 1977 to 1983. He was also active internationally, making contact with scientific workers in the socialist countries in eastern Europe, particularly those in Jena in East Germany. During this period he published a paper on the Bonnor Beam which models the gravitational field of a beam of light.

However, Bonnor, an atheist, rejected the Big Bang theory due to its perceived theological implications.[3]

Bonnor held visiting appointments at the Universities of Illinois (1960–61), Otago (1984) and Cape Town (1984–86). In 1999 he was awarded the honorary degree of D.Sc. by the University of Portsmouth.

Bonnor's researches have been published in about 150 papers in various scientific journals.[4] The most cited paper[5] described the effect of gravitation on Boyle's law; this has been extensively used in the theory of star formation. Another well-cited paper[6] applies Newtonian dynamics to the formation of galaxies in cosmology. However, most of Bonnor's research has been on the theory of general relativity. In this area he has worked on the theory of gravitational waves, on the field of two charged bodies, and on the interaction of spinning particles. In 1964 he published "The Mystery of the Expanding Universe", a popular book on cosmology.

He married Jean Stott, and has two children: Helen and Richard. He has four grandchildren: Amy, Tim, Jessica and George.


  1. ^ Galaxies, Axisymmetric Systems and Relativity. Essays presented to W.B. Bonnor on his 65th Birthday
  2. ^ William Bowen Bonnor Quotations
  3. ^ Kragh, Helge. Cosmology and Controversy: The Historical Development of Two Theories of the Universe. Princeton University Press. 1999. pg 259. 'The atheist Bonnor rejected big-bang theory for largely the same reasons as Hoyle did; among these, that it lent support to divine creation. "The underlying motive is, of course, to bring in God as creator," Bonnor stated.'
  4. ^ Bonnor, William. "Papers of William Bonnor as listed on SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS)". 
  5. ^ Bonnor, William (1956). "Boyle's Law and gravitational instability". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 116: 351. Bibcode:1956MNRAS.116..351B. 
  6. ^ Bonnor, William (1957). "Jeans' formula for gravitational instability". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 117: 104. Bibcode:1957MNRAS.117..104B. doi:10.1093/mnras/117.1.104. 

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