The College reported with great sadness the passing last September of one of its Nobel Laureates, Professor Antony Hewish. We are now able to announce that his widow Marjorie and his family have donated Antony’s medals to the College, for safekeeping in our Archives Centre. These include the Nobel Prize for Physics that he won in 1974, along with the Eddington Prize, amongst other accolades. They join the papers that related to his co-discovery of pulsars in the 1970s, which led to the awarding of the Nobel prize.

The medals were brought with citations to the College last week by Antony’s son, Nicholas, who recalled being present at the ceremony in Sweden when his late father received the Nobel.

The full list of medals donated are:

  • Eddington medal (Royal Astronomical Society, 1969)
  • Dellinger medal (URSI, 1972)
  • Michelson medal (Franklin Institute, 1973) Jointly to Antony Hewish & Jocelyn Bell
  • Nobel prize (with citation) (1974)
  • Holweck medal (with citation) (La Société Française de Physique, 1974)
  • Hughes medal (Royal Society, 1977)
Allen Packwood Christopher Catherwood Nicholas Hewish
Dr Christopher Catherwood (left), past Archives By-Fellow, witnesses the signing of the Deed of Gift for the medals by Nicholas Hewish (right), watched by Allen Packwood, Director of the Archives Centre

The College is grateful to the Hewish family for these historically significant donations, which add much to the College’s collections and which will form part of its regular items to show to visitors, for example during school and other tours to the Archives Centre.

About Professor Hewish

Born in Cornwall, Antony Hewish matriculated at Gonville and Caius in 1942. From 1943-46 he was engaged in war service at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough and at the Telecommunications Research Establishment, Malvern.

Returning to Cambridge in 1946, Antony graduated in 1948 and immediately joined Martin Ryle’s research team at the Cavendish Laboratory. He obtained his PhD in 1952 and became a Research Fellow at Gonville and Caius before transferring to Churchill College as Director of Studies in Physics in 1961. He was University Lecturer during 1961-69, Reader during 1969-71 and Professor of Radio Astronomy from 1971 until his retirement in 1989. In 1977 he assumed leadership of the Cambridge radio astronomy group and was head of the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory (MRAO) from 1982-88.

Antony’s decision to begin research in radio astronomy was influenced both by his wartime experience with electronics and antennas and by one of his teachers, Jack Ratcliffe, who had given a memorable course on electromagnetic theory during his final undergraduate year. He made both practical and theoretical advances in the observation and exploitation of the apparent scintillations of radio sources due to their radiation impinging upon plasma. This led him to propose, and secure funding for, the construction of the Interplanetary Scintillation Array, a large array radio telescope at the MRAO in order to conduct a high time-resolution radio survey of interplanetary scintillation. The construction was completed in 1967.

It was in 1974 that Antony, together with Martin Ryle, won the Nobel Prize for Physics ‘for his decisive role in the discovery of pulsars’. He was also awarded the Eddington Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1969. From the Churchill College perspective it may be interesting to note that the celebrated (1968) pulsar discovery paper by Hewish, his student Jocelyn Bell Burnell and others had a precursor. Antony and Sam Okoye, a Nigerian Advanced Student  at Churchill, reported in 1964 the puzzling scintillations from a source in the crab nebula which they surmised might be the remnant of a supernova. Antony was also a prolific speaker, co-delivering the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture on Exploration of the Universe in 1965 and subsequently several Friday Evening Discourses. Speaking of this work he said, ‘I believe scientists have a duty to share the excitement and pleasure of their work with the general public, and I enjoy the challenge of presenting difficult ideas in an understandable way.’