Bernard Lovell

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Bernard Lovell
Born Alfred Charles Bernard Lovell
31 August 1913
Oldland Common
Died 6 August 2012
Alma mater King's Oak Academy, University of Bristol
Occupation astronomer, physicist
Employer University of Manchester
Known for Radio astronomy

Sir Alfred Charles Bernard Lovell, OBE, FRS (31 August 1913 – 6 August 2012) was an English physicist and radio astronomer. He was the first Director of Jodrell Bank Observatory, from 1945 to 1980.[1][2][3][4][5]

Early life and education[edit]

Lovell was born at Oldland Common, Bristol in 1913,[6] the son of Gilbert and Emily Laura Lovell.[7] His childhood hobbies and interests included cricket and music – mainly the piano. He had a Methodist upbringing and attended Kingswood Grammar School.[8]


Lovell studied physics at the University of Bristol obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in 1934,[7] and a PhD in 1936 on the electrical conductivity of thin films.[9][10][11][12] At this time he also received lessons from Raymond Jones, a teacher at Bath Technical School and later organist at Bath Abbey. The church organ was one of the main loves of his life, apart from science.[13][14] He worked in the cosmic ray research team at the University of Manchester[15][15][16][17] until the outbreak of the Second World War, during which he worked for the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) developing radar systems to be installed in aircraft, among them H2S. In June 1942 he was involved in the recovery of a highly secret cavity magnetron from the wreckage of a Handley Page Halifax that had crashed killing a number of his colleagues, including EMI engineer Alan Blumlein, while on a test flight. For his work on H2S Lovell received an OBE in 1946.[18]

He attempted to continue his studies of cosmic rays with an ex-military radar detector unit, but suffered much background interference from the electric trams on Manchester's Oxford Road. He moved his equipment to a more remote location, one which was free from such electrical interference, and where he established the Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Goostrey in Cheshire. It was an outpost of the university's botany department. In the course of his experiments, he was able to show that radar echoes could be obtained from daytime meteor showers as they entered the Earth's atmosphere and ionised the surrounding air. With university funding, he constructed the then-largest steerable radio telescope in the world, which now bears his name – the Lovell Telescope. Over 50 years later, it remains a productive radio telescope, now operated mostly as part of the MERLIN and European VLBI Network interferometric arrays of radio telescopes.

Portrait by Reginald Gray, 1966, for the New York Times

In 1958, Lovell was invited by the BBC to deliver the annual Reith Lectures, a series of six radio broadcasts called The Individual and the Universe,[19] in which he examined the history of enquiry into the solar system and the origin of the universe.

In 1959, he was invited to deliver the MacMillan Memorial Lecture to the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland. He chose the subject 'Radio Astronomy and the Structure of the Universe'.

Lovell was knighted in 1961[20] for his important contributions to the development of radio astronomy, and has a secondary school named after him in Oldland Common, Bristol, which he officially opened.[21] A building on the QinetiQ site in Malvern is also named after him.

In 2009, Lovell spoke of a claimed assassination attempt in Deep-Space Communication Centre (Eupatoria) during the Cold War where the Soviets allegedly tried to kill him with a lethal radiation dose. At the time, Lovell was head of the Jodrell Bank space telescope that was also being used as part of an early warning system for Soviet nuclear attacks. Lovell wrote a full account of the incident, to be published only after his death.[22]

Lovell was a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.[23]

The first name of the fictional scientist Bernard Quatermass, the hero of several BBC Television science-fiction serials of the 1950s, was chosen in honour of Lovell.[24]

Physically very frail, Lovell lived in quiet retirement in the English countryside, surrounded by music, his books and a vast garden filled with trees he himself planted many decades before.

Lovell died at home in Cheshire on 6 August 2012.[25][26]

Personal life[edit]

In 1937 he married Mary Joyce Chesterman (d.1993) and they had two sons and three daughters.[27]

Awards and honours[edit]

Lovell won numerous awards including:


In 1965 he was invited to co-deliver the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture on Exploration of the Universe. In 1975 he gave the presidential address (In the Centre of Immensities) to the British Association meeting in Guildford.[29]



  1. ^ Smith, F. G.; Davies, R.; Lyne, A. (2012). "Bernard Lovell (1913–2012)". Nature 488 (7413): 592. Bibcode:2012Natur.488..592S. doi:10.1038/488592a. 
  2. ^ Anon (2007). "Sir Bernard Lovell at Jodrell Bank". Astronomy & Geophysics 48 (5): 5.21. Bibcode:2007A&G....48e..21.. doi:10.1111/j.1468-4004.2007.48521.x. 
  3. ^ Zijlstra, A. A.; Davis, R. J. (2012). "Sir Bernard Lovell (1913-2012)". Science 337 (6100): 1307. Bibcode:2012Sci...337.1307Z. doi:10.1126/science.1229080. PMID 22984062. 
  4. ^ "Sir Bernard Lovell | Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics". Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  5. ^ "Lovell, Bernard (1913–)". Wolfram Research. Retrieved 2006-11-22. 
  6. ^ GRO Register of Births: DEC 1913 5c 885 KEYNSHAM – Alfred CB Lovell, mmn = Adams
  7. ^ a b Don R. Hecker (8 August 2012). "Sir Bernard Lovell dies at 98; a radio telescope bears his name". New York Times. Retrieved 8 August 2012. 
  8. ^ "Bernard Lovell: 2 – Secondary school & the lecture that changed my life". Web of Stories. 5 September 2008. Retrieved 8 March 2012. 
  9. ^ Index to Theses in the United Kingdom and Ireland. (3 August 2012). Retrieved on 2012-08-21.
  10. ^ Lovell, A. C. B. (1936). "The Electrical Conductivity of Thin Metallic Films. I. Rubidium on Pyrex Glass Surfaces". Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 157 (891): 311. Bibcode:1936RSPSA.157..311L. doi:10.1098/rspa.1936.0197. 
  11. ^ Appleyard, E. T. S.; Lovell, A. C. B. (1937). "The Electrical Conductivity of Thin Metallic Films. II. Caesium and Potassium on Pyrex Glass Surfaces". Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 158 (895): 718. Bibcode:1937RSPSA.158..718A. doi:10.1098/rspa.1937.0050. 
  12. ^ Lovell, A. C. B. (1938). "The Electrical Conductivity of Thin Metallic Films. III. Alkali Films with the Properties of the Normal Metal". Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 166 (925): 270. Bibcode:1938RSPSA.166..270L. doi:10.1098/rspa.1938.0092. 
  13. ^ "Bernard Lovell / Astronomer". Retrieved 6 January 2011. 
  14. ^ "Student Memories of Bristol" (PDF). 2010. Retrieved 6 January 2011. 
  15. ^ a b Lovell, A. C. B. (1939). "Shower Production by Penetrating Cosmic Rays". Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 172 (951): 568. Bibcode:1939RSPSA.172..568L. doi:10.1098/rspa.1939.0122. 
  16. ^ Blackett, P. M. S.; Lovell, A. C. B. (1941). "Radio Echoes and Cosmic Ray Showers". Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 177 (969): 183. Bibcode:1941RSPSA.177..183B. doi:10.1098/rspa.1941.0003. 
  17. ^ Lovell, A. C. B.; Clegg, J. A. (1948). "Characteristics of Radio Echoes from Meteor Trails: I. The Intensity of the Radio Reflections and Electron Density in the Trails". Proceedings of the Physical Society 60 (5): 491. Bibcode:1948PPS....60..491L. doi:10.1088/0959-5309/60/5/312. 
  18. ^ "78 – Work on meteors at Jodrell Bank: observing the Giacobinid meteor shower of 1946". Retrieved 9 January 2011. 
  19. ^ a b "BBC Radio 4 – The Reith Lectures, Bernard Lovell: The Individual and the Universe: 1958". Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  20. ^ "Sir Bernard Lovell". Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, University of Manchester 28 August 2010. Retrieved 9 January 2011. 
  21. ^ "Sir Bernard Lovell School in Oldland Common". Retrieved 2006-11-22. 
  22. ^ "Sir Bernard Lovell claims Russians tried to kill him with radiation". The Telegraph. 22 May 2009. 
  23. ^ "The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences: Bernard Lovell". Retrieved 29 January 2011. 
  24. ^ Murray, Andy (2006). Into the Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale (paperback). London: Headpress. p. 28. ISBN 1-900486-50-4. 
  25. ^ "BBC News – Astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell dies". BBC. 7 August 2012. Retrieved 9 August 2012. 
  26. ^ Sir Bernard Lovell, University of Manchester, 7 August 2012
  27. ^ "LOVELL, Sir Alfred Charles Bernard, Who Was Who". A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 1920–2015; online edn, Oxford University Press, 2014; online edn. April 2014. Retrieved 17 Nov 2015. 
  28. ^ Honorary Graduates 1966 to 1988 | University of Bath. Retrieved on 2012-08-21.
  29. ^ Renn, D. F.; Steeds, A. J. (June 1976). "The British Association for the Advancement of Science: Annual Meeting 1975, Guildford". Journal of the Institute of Actuaries 103 (1): 113–115. doi:10.1017/s0020268100017790. 
  30. ^ Anon (1958). "Books reviewed: The Exploration of Space by Radio. By R. Hanbury Brown and A. C. B. Lovell Farming Weather By L. P. Smith. The Threshold of Space. Ed. M. Zelikoff". Weather 13 (9): 317–318. Bibcode:1958Wthr...13..317.. doi:10.1002/j.1477-8696.1958.tb02406.x. 

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