Sir Bernard Lovell, The Man The Soviets Tried to Poison With Uranium, Dies at 98

Lovell, of the Lovell telescope, made several advances in radio astronomy and physics.

Sir Bernard Lovell, physicist and radio astronomer, died yesterday at the age of 98. Lovell is best known for the telescope that bears his name – a 76-metre instrument housed at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in England. Lovell was the director of that observatory from 1945 to 1980.

The Lovell telescope was hugely important in furthering our understanding of pulsars, and testing the physics underlying Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Now, the Jodrell Bank Observatory is home to newer, fancier pieces of equipment, like the seven e-MERLIN radio telescopes, which together constitute one of the most powerful telescope arrays in the world. Those telescopes wouldn’t work if it weren’t for Lovell’s work on linking telescopes together.

He gave two lectures for the BBC, called “The Individual and the Universe” which you can listen to here, and here. The talks travel through the history and culture surrounding what we know about the universe, and why we care to ask. Here’s how Lovell introduced the talks:

This week and next week I want to talk to you about the problem of the origin of the universe. I suppose it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that this is the greatest challenge to the intellect that faces man, and I cannot pretend that I have any new solution to offer you. However, you may have gathered from my earlier talks that  today the air is alive with a new hope and expectancy, because our new instruments may be reaching out so far into space that we may soon be able to speak with more confidence. I am going to set out the problem as I see it, and I hope you will get an idea of these vast cosmological issues and of the implications of the alternative solutions which lie ahead. At the end I shall tell you what I think about it all as an ordinary human being.

And here is Lowell speaking with Web of Stories:

Lovell was so good at what he did that the Soviets tried to assassinate him during the Cold War with a lethal dose of radiation. According to the Telegraph, the fully detailed account of this attempt, kept currently in the John Rylands Archive, wouldn’t be published until after his death — although there is no sign of it yet.


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