Bernard Lovell

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bernard Lovell

Alfred Charles Bernard Lovell

(1913-08-31)31 August 1913
Oldland Common, Bristol, England
Died6 August 2012(2012-08-06) (aged 98)
Swettenham, Cheshire, England
Alma materUniversity of Bristol
Known forRadio astronomy
Scientific career
  • Astronomy
  • physics
ThesisThe electrical conductivity of thin metallic films (1936)

Sir Alfred Charles Bernard Lovell OBE FRS (/ˈlʌvəl/ LUV-əl; 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][6]

Early life and education[edit]

Lovell was born at Oldland Common, Bristol, in 1913, the son of local tradesman and Methodist preacher Gilbert Lovell (1881–1956) and Emily Laura, née Adams.[7][8] Gilbert Lovell was an "authority on the Bible" and, having "studied English literature and grammar", was still "bombarding his son with complaints on points of grammar, punctuation and method of speaking" when Lovell was in his forties.[9] Lovell's childhood hobbies and interests included cricket and music, mainly the piano. He had a Methodist upbringing and attended Kingswood Grammar School.[6][10]

Career and research[edit]

Lovell studied physics at the University of Bristol obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in 1934,[8] and a PhD in 1936 for his work on the electrical conductivity of thin films.[11][12][13][14] At this time, he also received lessons in music from Raymond Jones, a teacher at Bath Technical School and later an organist at Bath Abbey. The church organ was one of the main loves of his life, apart from science.[15][16]

Lovell worked in the cosmic ray research team at the University of Manchester[17][18][19] until the outbreak of the Second World War. At the beginning of the war, Lovell published his first book, Science and Civilization. During the war 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.

At the end of the Second World War, Lovell 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 and had been a searchlight station during the war. 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. He was later able to determine the orbits of meteors in annual meteor showers to show they were in solar orbit and not of interstellar origin. 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 2009, Lovell claimed he had been the subject of a Cold War assassination attempt during a 1963 visit to the Soviet Deep-Space Communication Centre (Eupatoria). He alleged that his hosts tried to kill him with a lethal radiation dose[20] because he was head of the Jodrell Bank space telescope when it was also being used as part of an early warning system for Soviet nuclear attacks. He wrote a full account of the incident which, at his determination, was only published after his death.[21]


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,[22] 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".[23]

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.[24]

Awards and honours[edit]

Lovell won numerous awards including:

Lovell was a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.[34]

Beyond professional recognition, Lovell has a secondary school named after him in Oldland Common, Bristol, which he officially opened.[35] A building on the QinetiQ site in Malvern is also named after him, as was the fictional scientist Bernard Quatermass, the hero of several BBC Television science-fiction serials of the 1950s, whose first name was chosen in honour of Lovell.[36]

Personal life[edit]

In 1937, Lovell married Mary Joyce Chesterman (d. 1993) and they had two sons and three daughters.[6][37] Their son Dr Bryan Lovell is a geologist at the University of Cambridge.

In later life Lovell was physically very frail; he 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 Swettenham, Cheshire on 6 August 2012.[38][39]

Read also[edit]

  • Lovell, Bernard (1967). Our Present Knowledge of the Universe. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.


  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. PMID 22932377.
  2. ^ Anon (2007). "Sir Bernard Lovell at Jodrell Bank". Astronomy & Geophysics. 48 (5): 5.21–5.22. 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. S2CID 11177729.
  4. ^ "Sir Bernard Lovell | Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics". Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  5. ^ "Lovell, Bernard (1913–)". Wolfram Research. Retrieved 22 November 2006.
  6. ^ a b c d e Davies, Rodney D.; Graham-Smith, Francis; Lyne, Andrew G. (2016). "Sir Alfred Charles Bernard Lovell OBE. 31 August 1913 – 6 August 2012". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 62: 323–344. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2015.0026.
  7. ^ Murdin, Paul (2016). "Lovell, Sir (Alfred Charles) Bernard (1913–2012), astronomer". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/105432. ISBN 978-0-19-861412-8. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  8. ^ a b Hecker, Don R. (8 August 2012). "Sir Bernard Lovell dies at 98; a radio telescope bears his name". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  9. ^ Bernard Lovell- A Biography, Dudley Saward, R. Hale, 1984, p. 13
  10. ^ "Bernard Lovell: 2 – Secondary school & the lecture that changed my life". Web of Stories. 5 September 2008. Retrieved 8 March 2012.
  11. ^ Index to Theses in the United Kingdom and Ireland. (3 August 2012). Retrieved on 2012-08-21.
  12. ^ 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): 311–330. Bibcode:1936RSPSA.157..311L. doi:10.1098/rspa.1936.0197.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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): 270–277. Bibcode:1938RSPSA.166..270L. doi:10.1098/rspa.1938.0092.
  15. ^ "Bernard Lovell / Astronomer". Retrieved 6 January 2011.
  16. ^ LovelI, Bernard. "Lovell's Memories / Student Memories of Bristol" (PDF). University of Bristol. Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 February 2012. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  17. ^ Lovell, A. C. B. (1939). "Shower Production by Penetrating Cosmic Rays". Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. 172 (951): 568–582. Bibcode:1939RSPSA.172..568L. doi:10.1098/rspa.1939.0122.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ "Sir Bernard Lovell claims Russians tried to kill him with radiation". The Telegraph. 22 May 2009. Retrieved 27 March 2023.
  21. ^ "Sir Bernard Lovell (1913-2012)". 24 September 2012. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  22. ^ "BBC Radio 4 – The Reith Lectures, Bernard Lovell: The Individual and the Universe: 1958". Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  23. ^ "Hugh Miller Macmillan". Macmillan Memorial Lectures. Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland. Archived from the original on 4 October 2018. Retrieved 29 January 2019.
  24. ^ 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. JSTOR 41140365.
  25. ^ "78 – Work on meteors at Jodrell Bank: observing the Giacobinid meteor shower of 1946". Retrieved 9 January 2011.
  26. ^ Bernard Lovell telling his life story at Web of Stories
  27. ^ Article about Bernard Lovell's life, by John Bromley Davenport in The Daily Telegraph, 19 April 2011.
  28. ^ "Lovell, Alfred Charles Bernard (Oral history)". Imperial War Museums.
  29. ^ "Alfred Charles Bernard Lovell". 9 February 2023.
  30. ^ "Sir Bernard Lovell". Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, University of Manchester 28 August 2010. Retrieved 9 January 2011.
  31. ^ Honorary Graduates 1966 to 1988 | University of Bath Archived 25 May 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2012-08-21.
  32. ^ Astronomical Society of Edinburgh, Lorimer Medal
  33. ^ "APS Member History".
  34. ^ "The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences: Bernard Lovell". Retrieved 29 January 2011.
  35. ^ "Sir Bernard Lovell School in Oldland Common". Archived from the original on 5 February 2007. Retrieved 22 November 2006.
  36. ^ Murray, Andy (2006). Into the Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale (paperback). London: Headpress. p. 28. ISBN 978-1-900486-50-7.
  37. ^ "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 November 2015.
  38. ^ "Astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell dies". BBC News. 7 August 2012. Retrieved 9 August 2012.
  39. ^ Sir Bernard Lovell, University of Manchester, 7 August 2012

External links[edit]