Hermann Bondi

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Hermann Bondi
Born(1919-11-01)1 November 1919
Died10 September 2005(2005-09-10) (aged 85)
Cambridge, England, UK
EducationTrinity College, Cambridge (M.A.,[3] 1940)[4]
Known forSteady State theory
Sticky bead argument
Bondi accretion
Bondi k-calculus
Bondi mass
Bondi–Metzner–Sachs group
Lemaître–Tolman–Bondi metric
AwardsGold Medal of the RSA (2001)
Gold Medal od IMA (1988)
Albert Einstein Medal (1983)
Guthrie Medal (1973)
James Scott Prize Lectureship (1960-1963)
Order of the Bath (1973)
Fellow of the Royal Society (1959)[1]
Scientific career
Physical cosmology
InstitutionsKing's College London
University of Cambridge
Academic advisorsHarold Jeffreys[1]
Arthur Eddington[2]
Doctoral studentsFelix Pirani
Roger Tayler[2]
3rd Master of Churchill College, Cambridge
In office
Preceded bySir William Hawthorne
Succeeded byLord Broers

Sir Hermann Bondi KCB FRS[1] (1 November 1919 – 10 September 2005)[7] was an Austrian-British mathematician and cosmologist.

He is best known for developing the steady state model 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,[8][9][10][11] and was the first to analyze the inertial and gravitational interaction of negative mass[12] and the first to explicate correctly the nature of gravitational waves.[9] In his 1990 autobiography, Bondi regarded the 1962 work on gravitational waves[9] as his "best scientific work".[13]: 79 

Early life[edit]

Bondi was born in Vienna, the son of a Jewish 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 arrange 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 antisemitism in Austria. Realizing 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 subsequently settled in New York.[citation needed]

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. In 1940, Bondi became Senior Wrangler at the University of Cambridge. Bondi and Gold were released from internment by the end of 1941, and worked with Fred Hoyle on radar at the Admiralty Signals Establishment. He became a British subject in 1946.[citation needed]


Bondi lectured in mathematics in the University of Cambridge from 1945 to 1954. He was a fellow of Trinity College from 1943 to 1949 and from 1952 to 1954.[citation needed]

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).[citation needed]

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,[8] 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".[citation needed]

He became a professor in King's College London in 1954 and was appointed Emeritus Professor there in 1985.[14] 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,[15] 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.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18]

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 at Cambridge in 2005, aged 85[19] and his ashes were scattered at Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge. Christine died in 2015.

References and notes[edit]

  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. S2CID 70786803.
  2. ^ a b Hermann Bondi at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  3. ^ "Sir Hermann Bondi – British scientist".
  4. ^ "Sir Hermann Bondi: 1919–2005 – physicsworld.com". Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 17 December 2013.
  5. ^ "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 Archived 27 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine 29 April 2008.
  6. ^ 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).
  7. ^ 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. S2CID 39819.
  8. ^ 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. S2CID 117895540.
  9. ^ a b c 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. S2CID 120125096.
  10. ^ Obituaries:
  11. ^ "Oral History interview transcript with Hermann Bondi 1978-03-20, American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library and Archives". American Institute of Physics. 6 January 2015.
  12. ^ Bondi, H. (July 1957). "Negative Mass in General Relativity" (PDF). Reviews of Modern Physics. 29 (3): 423–428. Bibcode:1957RvMP...29..423B. doi:10.1103/RevModPhys.29.423.
  13. ^ Bondi, Hermann (1990). Science, Churchill, and me: the autobiography of Hermann Bondi, master of Churchill College, Cambridge. Oxford: Pergamon Press. ISBN 0-08-037235-X. The 1962 paper I regard as the best scientific work I have ever done, which is later in life than mathematicians supposedly peak.
  14. ^ David Robinson, Gravitation and general relativity at King's College London, European Physical Journal H 44, pp 181–270 (2019)
  15. ^ "IMA Gold Medal". Retrieved 16 May 2018. Institute of Mathematics and its Applications
  16. ^ "Corporate Information". www.bath.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 25 May 2016. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
  17. ^ The Papers of Sir Hermann Bondi (Janus Project)
  18. ^ "Humanist Manifesto II". American Humanist Association. Archived from the original on 20 October 2012. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
  19. ^ GRO Register of deaths: SEP 2005 D67C 21 CAMBRIDGE – Hermann Bondi, DoB = 1 Nov 1919, aged 85

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by Master of Churchill College
Succeeded by