Hermann Bondi

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Sir Hermann Bondi
Born (1919-11-01)1 November 1919
Vienna, Austria
Died 10 September 2005(2005-09-10) (aged 85)
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England
Citizenship British
Nationality Austrian
Fields Mathematician
Physical cosmology
Institutions King's College London
University of Cambridge
Doctoral advisor Harold Jeffreys[1]
Arthur Eddington[2]
Doctoral students Hans-Peter Künzle
Felix Pirani
Roger Tayler[2]
Known for Steady State theory
Sticky bead argument
Bondi accretion
Bondi k-calculus
Notable awards Fellow of the Royal Society[1]
Order of the Bath

Sir Hermann Bondi KCB FRS[1] (1 November 1919 – 10 September 2005)[5] was an Anglo-Austrian mathematician and cosmologist. He is best known for developing the Steady State theory of the universe with Fred Hoyle and Thomas Gold as an alternative to the Big Bang theory. He contributed to the theory of general relativity.[6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14]

Early life[edit]

Bondi was born in Austria, the son of a medical doctor. He was brought up in Vienna, where he studied at the Realgymnasium. He showed early prodigious ability at mathematics, and was recommended to Arthur Eddington by Abraham Fraenkel. Fraenkel was a distant relation, the only mathematician in the extended family, and Hermann's mother had the foresight to engineer a meeting between her young son and the famous man, knowing that this might be the key to enabling him to follow his wishes and become a mathematician himself. Eddington encouraged him to travel to England to read the mathematical tripos at Trinity College, Cambridge. He arrived in Cambridge in 1937, escaping from anti-semitism in Austria. Realising the perilous position of his parents in 1938, shortly before the Anschluss, he sent them a telegram telling them to leave Austria at once. They managed to reach Switzerland, and later settled in New York.

In the early years of World War II, he was interned on the Isle of Man and in Canada as a friendly enemy alien. Other internees included Thomas Gold and Max Perutz. Bondi and Gold had been released by the end of 1941, and worked with Fred Hoyle on radar at the Admiralty Signals Establishment. He became a British subject in 1946.


Bondi lectured in mathematics at the University of Cambridge from 1945 to 1954. He was a fellow of Trinity 1943-9 and 1952-4

In 1948, Bondi, Hoyle and Gold formulated the Steady State theory, which holds that the universe is constantly expanding but matter is constantly created to form new stars and galaxies to maintain a constant average density. Steady State theory was eclipsed by the rival Big Bang theory with the discovery of the cosmic microwave background (CMB).

Bondi was one of the first to correctly appreciate the nature of gravitational radiation, introducing Bondi radiation coordinates, the Bondi k-calculus, the notions of Bondi mass and Bondi news, and writing review articles. He popularized the sticky bead argument which was said to be originally due, anonymously, to Richard Feynman, for the claim that physically meaningful gravitational radiation is indeed predicted by general relativity, an assertion which was controversial up until about 1955. A 1947 paper revived interest in the Lemaître–Tolman metric,[6] an inhomogeneous, spherically symmetric dust solution (often called the LTB or Lemaître–Tolman–Bondi metric). Bondi also contributed to the theory of accretion of matter from a cloud of gas onto a star or a black hole, working with Raymond Lyttleton and giving his name to "Bondi accretion" and the "Bondi radius".

He became a professor at King's College London in 1954, and was given the title of Emeritus Professor there in 1985. He was secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1956 to 1964.

Other work[edit]

Bondi was also active outside the confines of academic lecturing and research. He held many positions:

He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1959.[1] He made a series of television programs called E=mc2 for the BBC in 1963. He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Bath in 1973. He was awarded the Einstein Society Gold Medal in 1983, the Gold Medal of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications in 1988, the G.D. Birla International Award for Humanism, and the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 2001. He was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Science) by the University of Bath in 1974.[15]

His report into the flooding of London in 1953 led eventually to the building of the Thames Barrier. He also supported the proposal for a Severn Barrage to generate electricity, but this project was not carried forward.

His papers from 1940 to 2000 are archived in 109 archive boxes by the Janus Project.[16]

Personal life[edit]

His parents were Jewish, but he never "felt the need for religion" and was a lifelong humanist. He was president of the British Humanist Association from 1982 to 1999, and president of the Rationalist Press Association from 1982. He was one of the signers of the Humanist Manifesto.[17]

He married Christine Stockman, also a mathematician and astronomer, in 1947; she had been one of Hoyle's research students and like him she went on to be active in the humanist movement. Together, they had two sons and three daughters, one of whom is Professor Liz Bondi, feminist geographer at the University of Edinburgh. He died in Cambridge in 2005, aged 85.[18] and his ashes were scattered at Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge. Christine died in 2015.


  1. ^ a b c d Roxburgh, I. W. (2007). "Hermann Bondi 1 November 1919–10 September 2005: Elected FRS 1959". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 53: 45–61. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2007.0008. 
  2. ^ a b Hermann Bondi at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  3. ^ "Since his childhood in Vienna Bondi had been an atheist, developing from an early age a view on religion that associated it with repression and intolerance. This view, which he shared with Hoyle, never left him. On several occasions he spoke out on behalf of freethinking, so-called, and became early on active in British atheist or "humanist" circles. From 1982 to 1999, he was president of the British Humanist Association, and he also served as president of the Rationalist Press Association of United Kingdom." Helge Kragh: "Bondi, Hermann", Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography Vol. 19 p. 343. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2008. Accessed via Gale Virtual Reference Library 29 April 2008.
  4. ^ In a letter to the Guardian, Jane Wynne Willson, Vice-President of the British Humanist Association, added to his obituary: "Also president of the Rationalist Press Association from 1982 until his death, and with a particular interest in Indian rationalism, Hermann was a strong supporter of the Atheist Centre in Andhra Pradesh. He and his wife Christine visited the centre a number of times, and the hall in the science museum there bears his name. When presented with a prestigious international award, he divided a large sum of money between the Atheist Centre and women's health projects in Mumbai." Obituary letter: Hermann Bondi, Guardian, 23 September 2005 (accessed 29 April 2008).
  5. ^ Mestel, L. (2005). "Obituary: Hermann Bondi (1919–2005) Mathematician, cosmologist and public servant". Nature. 437 (7060): 828. Bibcode:2005Natur.437..828M. doi:10.1038/437828a. PMID 16208358. 
  6. ^ a b Bondi, H. (1999). "Spherically Symmetrical Models in General Relativity". General Relativity and Gravitation. 31 (11): 1783–1805. Bibcode:1999GReGr..31.1783B. doi:10.1023/A:1026726520289. 
  7. ^ 93 papers by Hermann Bondi
  8. ^ Obituary (The Independent, 2005-09-12)
  9. ^ Obituary (The Telegraph, 2005-09-13)
  10. ^ Obituary (The Guardian, 2005-09-14)
  11. ^ Sir Hermann Bondi: 1919 – 2005 (Institute of Physics, 2005-09-14)
  12. ^ Black hole scientist Bondi dies (BBC News, 2005-09-17)
  13. ^ Oral History interview transcript with Hermann Bondi 1978-03-20, American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library and Archives
  14. ^ Bondi, H.; Van Der Burg, M. G. J.; Metzner, A. W. K. (1962). "Gravitational Waves in General Relativity. VII. Waves from Axi-Symmetric Isolated Systems". Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. 269 (1336): 21. Bibcode:1962RSPSA.269...21B. doi:10.1098/rspa.1962.0161. 
  15. ^ http://www.bath.ac.uk/ceremonies/hongrads/older.html
  16. ^ The Papers of Sir Hermann Bondi (Janus Project)
  17. ^ "Humanist Manifesto II". American Humanist Association. Retrieved 2 October 2012. 
  18. ^ GRO Register of deaths: SEP 2005 D67C 21 CAMBRIDGE – Hermann Bondi, DoB = 1 Nov 1919, aged 85
Academic offices
Preceded by
William Hawthorne
Master of Churchill College
Succeeded by
Alec Broers