Robert d'Escourt Atkinson

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Robert d'Escourt Atkinson (born 11 April 1898, Rhayader, Wales – died 28 October 1982, Bloomington, Indiana) was a British astronomer, physicist and inventor.


Robert d'Escourt Atkinson was born in Wales on April 11, 1898.[1] He went to Manchester Grammar School and received a degree in physics from Oxford in 1922. He worked in the Clarendon Laboratory and then went to Göttingen, where he received a Ph.D. in physics in 1928.[2] After teaching physics at the Berlin Technische Hochscule for a year, Atkinson was appointed Assistant Professor of Physics at Rutgers University.[1] He taught at Rutgers University in New Jersey from 1929 to 1937, when he became Chief Assistant at the Royal Greenwich Observatory.[2] During World War II, Atkinson was called away from this position to do anti-magnetic mine work. In 1944, he was lent out to the Ballistic Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, where he worked under famed astronomer Edwin Hubble. Atkinson stayed there for two years then returned to Royal Greenwich Observatory. A large amount of his remaining years at the Royal Observatory were spent overseeing the move of the entire Observatory to Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex. In 1964, Atkinson retired from the Royal Observatory and came to Indiana University as a visiting professor. He became an adjunct professor in 1973 and a professor emeritus in 1979 at Indiana University. Also involved in professional associations, Atkinson was a founder-member of the Royal Institute of Navigation and served as president of the British Astronomical Association for one year. Atkinson passed away in Bloomington on October 28, 1982.[1]


In 1929, Atkinson collaborated with Fritz Houtermans to apply Gamow's quantum tunnelling theory to the process of nuclear fusion in stars. They showed that fusing light nuclei could create energy in accordance with Einstein's formula of mass-energy equivalence, and that heavy nuclei could be built up by a successive series of fusions. Their models were similar to the later CNO cycle. This theory was not accepted at the time as it depended on the idea that stars were mostly hydrogen. Atkinson wrote about this theory again in the 1930s, predicting that the most luminous stars should have a short lifetime. He also proposed that the elements found in the Universe could be built up by fusion in stars, and that white dwarf stars did not need a nuclear source of energy in order to shine.[2] After World War II, he worked on astronomical instrumentation and positional astronomy.[2]

Atkinson's mechanical skills led to a commission to design an astronomical clock for York Minster, the York Minster astronomical clock.[3]



  1. ^ a b c "Robert d'Escourt Atkinson papers, 1893-1901". Archives Online at Indiana University.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Atkinson, Robert d’Escourt", by Wayne Orchiston, pp. 68-69 in The Biographical Dictionary of Astronomers, eds. Thomas Hockey et al., Springer: New York, 2007, ISBN 978-0-387-31022-0, doi:10.1007/978-0-387-30400-7.
  3. ^ "Notes", The Observatory, 76 (April 1956), pp. 79-80, Bibcode:1956Obs....76...79..
  4. ^ "1984QJRAS..25..100M Page 100". Retrieved 1 February 2017.

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