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back to article British radio telescope genius Sir Bernard Lovell dies

Sir Bernard Lovell - the brilliant British physicist whose inventions observed cosmic rays and ended up on the front lines of the Cold War - has died at the age of 98. Bristol-born Sir Bernard is best-known for establishing the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory, whose Lovell radio telescope was used to conduct …

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Pint

I do like the naive charm of that USSR story.

He did have a good innings though..

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Holmes

Re: I do like the naive charm of that USSR story.

Yeah, what's this bizarre idea of cooking the brain with a radio telescope? Did he mean "too much microwaves"?

Those were the times. Today, our side offs scientists in foreign lands an nary a peep from the reconstituted sheeple.

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Re: I do like the naive charm of that USSR story.

also don't forget dr david kelly. They murdered him too probably.

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Re: I do like the naive charm of that USSR story.

If "threatening his family if he didn't shut himself up" - probably (i.e. hearsay) - or at least taking his wife's pension away, counts as murder, which I rather think it does. By the way, it was nice knowing you. (THAT isn't true, but it would be unkind to say so when we're both about to get done in too - probably.)

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Angel

A true boffin...

IIRC the Mk 1 radio telescope (now the Lovell Telescope) at Jodrell Bank used parts from scrapped WWII battleships and steam locomotives in its construction.

Garden shed engineering on an epic scale.

RIP Sir Bernard Lovell.

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Re: A true boffin...

That thing's a deathtrap - Tom Baker fell off it and woke up as Peter Davison.

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Windows

Re: A true boffin...

Try to track down a copy of Lovell's book 'The Story of Jodrell Bank'. His version of getting the Mk1 built. Many here will be all too familiar with the kinds of problems he faced...

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Re: A true boffin...

I read somewhere that the bearings, drive ring & gear train were from a scrapped battleships main gun turret, as you say "Garden shed engineering on an epic scale" and it was able to _accurately_ track sputnik.

Now that's heroic.

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Re: A true boffin...

IIRC the battleship parts were main bearings (from the gun turrets- built to withstand huge forces)

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Bah!

The world is, once more, a smaller place.

I remember the Radio Telescope as an iconic piece of the backdrop of my childhood. Even the name "Jodrell Bank" is evocative, more like something one would find in a good SF story than lying around on Earth on a signpost or two.

When I was given the option of having my first picture cheques, I picked the ones showing five different technological achievements of Great Britain because one of those achievements was the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank. A nice picture it was, too.

A great achievement and a stunning innings. Well done that scientist.

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Re: Bah!

Me too, I grew up in Congleton, with Jodrell Bank on the horizon, looking awesome. I suspect it's presence - and plenty of visits to the place - was at least part of the reason I've always been interested in astronomy.

Also I once gave Sir Bernard a Tunnocks Teacake while he was weeding his garden. He seemed pleased. True story.

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N2
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Re: Bah!

Agreed, salute to a true genius

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Happy

Tunnock's Teacake

Maybe that explains why he was ill for a month?

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Trollface

I am sure...

...that the Americans will say they were doing something like this earlier or better.

Or they will produce a film of a radio telescope inventor and site it in Mitchigan...

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Mitchigan?

is a river in Michigan.

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Re: Mitchigan?

No one really cares about America, we got what he meant......

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Trollface

Re: I am sure...

Well they cracked the enigma code for sure, didn't they? All of these Briddish stories about Polish agents handing over a complete machine, followed by tales about Turing and Tommy Flowers (who didn't design the first working computer) are all fluff in the minds of the Briddish. Uhuh.

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RIP

A truly great pioneer and inventor.

RIP Sir Bernard.

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Military Inteligence at it's best

"Sir Bernard said: "I think I should have been prevented from going to to the Soviet Union because they obviously knew we had been used as a defence centre."

I wasn't allowed to go to a Pink Floyd concert in Berlin in 1990 - a year AFTER the wall came down, because I would lose my security clearance for a very boring project making a telescope to track satellites. And they let a top radio and radar expert go to Moscow at the height of the cold war?????

ps of course it's always possible the vetting people were unaware of the cold war and wouldn't let me go to Berlin in case I let slip the details of our plans at Waterloo.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Military Inteligence at it's best

They were probably just still pissed off about Pigs.

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Irradiated by microwaves with an intention to kill him?

I can easily believe chemical poison or short-living radioisotopes, but the claim that his own technology was used in an attempt to assassinate him is, in my opinion, a clear sign of paranoia.

Of course this is no way diminishes his achievements! There is no contradiction between being a genius and being mentally unhealthy. Especially in those times.

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Holmes

Quite.

Gödel comes to mind immediately.

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Anonymous Coward

At least the Russians have modernized. Now they use Polonium.

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Holmes

Isn't that the Israelis?

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Coat

Polonium

Wasn't he a character in Hamlet?

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as I recall

The Mossad has traditionalists, and sticks to plumbum.

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WTF?

wtf?

>a lot of my compatriots who went to the Soviet Union in those days in the early 1960s never did return

Who the hell would want to go especially then? I wouldn't go even now. Europe in general does not get better the farther east you go*

*Hungary perhaps excluded.

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Devil

Put down that Axe Eugene...Microwaves can kill, easily.

My dad spent alot of time with radar testing for ICBM's that he was involved in designing and met alot of Radar techs who had lots of horror stories about dangers of high power Radar. The NORAD Distant Early Warning system was a series of VERY large radar antennae that ran across Canada, Alaska & Greenland. They were powerful enough to kill small animals that had the misfortune to cross their path while they were on. The antennae were mounted almost horizontally (maybe 3 to 5 degrees above horizon) Men that were exposed had many health issues, not the least of which was sterilization, cataracts . Worst case scenario is you could easily be microwaved to death if you spent any time infront of the main antennae.

Your brain would boil in your head if you walked out in front of them. Each antennae had a peak power of 160 Kilowatts (just a wee bit more than your microwave oven) and was the size of a drive in movie projection screen. The tubes used to create the RF radiation could also produce X rays.

So no Eugene, Sir Bernard was NOT paranoid. Although concentrated microwaves focused on a human brain CAN cause confusion and paranoid delusions.

The Russians could have easily pointed strong Microwave energy at him to kill him or try to make him sick.

No different than the Russians indiscriminant use of Polonium to kill people, just that microwaves could have been a "regrettable accident" with little reason for investigation

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Holmes

In Soviet Russia, boiled eggs are you!

I would like to see how a guy with important scientific credentials on a visit from beyond the iron curtain who suddenly ends up with a "boiled brain" in his hotel room would be a situation for which there is "little reason for investigation".

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Holmes

Re: In Soviet Russia, boiled eggs are you!

Quite simple, really.

It happens in Soviet Socialist Republic of Russia.

KGB decides if it needs to be investigated or is just a tragic accident.

Having arranged said tragic accident, they know it doesn't need to be investigated.

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Re: Put down that Axe Eugene...Microwaves can kill, easily.

"The Russians could have easily pointed strong Microwave energy at him to kill him or try to make him sick."

Indeed, as RAF personnel based in Cyprus once found out, when someone unwisely walked in front of an active dish. He fell out before his commander could give the word.

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Re: Put down that Axe Eugene...Microwaves can kill, easily.

I heard a story from a guy that worked on high power microwave radar that a 'standard' way to check that the power was on was by putting a sausage on a (wooden) stick in the beam. If it sizzled within seconds, power was on.

I also studied at Jodrell and Sir Bernard never struck me as paranoid. Aloof with us 'kids' perhaps. He always had an eye to the practical observational aspects rather than speculation or wild theories.

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Re: Put down that Axe Eugene...Microwaves can kill, easily.

Dan Paul,

High power microwaves can certainly kill. They are well absorbed by water and will heat your body inside, possibly to lethal effect. If the energy is not at lethal level, it sill is dangerous to the eyes, because there is no blood flow in them to dissipate the heat. Staying in front of a working high power radar is definitely a very bad idea.

But the idea that the adversary favoured that method over others, that it was unnoticed by the subject at the time of application, and that it caused a month-old illness (without causing blindness) does not fly with me. I stand by my assertion.

And, there was no axe here, not in the least.

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Big Brother

Re: Put down that Axe Eugene...Microwaves can kill, easily.

"Put down that axe Eugene" is a pun based on part of a Pink Floyd song title "Careful with that axe Eugene".

So you feel it is unlikely that the Cold War Era Soviets would use/favor using a completely invisible, long distance, non contact method of killing/harming a British Scientist? Back when the "Arms/Space Race" was in it's infancy and any lead over the Western World was a coup for the Politbureau? I'm quite sure that far worse things were done by the KGB.

The KGB did what ever it wanted in those days and there did not need to be any rhyme or reason to their actions. The mere fact that it was possible would have been enough reason for the KGB back then.

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Re: Put down that Axe Eugene...Microwaves can kill, easily.

Dan Paul,

I know for sure that KGB has done much worse things than the alleged microwave irradiation.

But, with some understanding of the technology, I can tell that this method having been applied is much less likely than the alternatives. For one thing, being invisible, it is very far from being unnoticeable by the victim. It's effect is largely immediate, not deferred. (And for the record, to make it long distance, you need to focus a narrow beam, and for that you need a large antenna.) Even using a Cobalt 60 gamma source would be easier, and fits the symptoms much better. That's not to mention "contact" methods like hard to detect chemical poisons.

However, as I think more about it, this story actually very well may not be a sign of the man's psychological condition, but a part of the campaign to disseminate the myths and disinformation to the public. Now, that thing was at full rage at the time, on both sides of the iron curtain.

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Mushroom

The Russians bombarded the US Embassy with microwaves for years.

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Black Helicopters

@Caustin Soda

Yeah, but that was to power the wireless listening bugs they built into the walls of the building during construction.

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Re: @Caustin Soda

Well that's all right then, so long as there was no *intent* to harm anyone.

Why would they need to do that though? I mean, they must've run wires for the phone to the Kremlin, the lights, the electric Samovar gifted from the People's Tea Collective, the fountain in front of the building, the illumination for the pastoral statuary depicting Soviet youth on tractors, gazing into the glorious future, shielding their eyes with one hand and clutching scythes with the other (actual Five Year Plan poster used for inspiration of that last one).

No doubt there is a clever reason why they simply didn't run the wires through hollow rebar, which would be my way of doing it because it would be easy to manage and a bit less obvious than bathing a building in microwaves. I think even borscht cans set in the walls with bits of string going to the listening post would be less obvious than that to be honest. No doubt I am being naive.

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Pint

Radio Telescope tracking Sputnik

I guess it was used in Radar mode, since Sputnik was on 20MHz. ?

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Re: Radio Telescope tracking Sputnik

"Track" Sputnik, not listen to its "beep".

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Soviets

Jodrell Bank had an up and down relationship with the Soviet space programme. It was used to track the Luna 1 and 2 Moon missions to provide independent corroboration that the Soviets had produced a rocket that could throw things to escape velocity.

But later they got into real trouble when Luna 9 became the first probe to land safely and return images from the surface of the Moon. Jodrell Bank was listening in to the messages and realised the data was coming back in standard teletype format. Inexplicably the Soviet Union had not published any of the images, so after waiting a reasonable time, JB called the Daily Express (when it used to be a newspaper) and were able to reconstruct the images and publish them in the West before they appeared in the Soviet press. Needless to say the politburo was not impressed.

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Windows

Luvaduck...

Another of the greats goes. We're losing them, steadily and sadly they will be missed.

Probably apocryphal, but I read a story once that they'd painted a huge sign on the antenna, warning passing helicopters that flying too close to the antenna to see it may cause erectile dysfunctia. Don't think they had many 'chopper flights nearby after that....

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"the observatory was used to ... provide early warning of a missile attack from the cold communist state."

First, I know that we Americans tend to ignore British news, but which missile attack was this? Second, I know that this was in cooler decade or four, but 'cold communist state'? Was the system expected to function in the summer?

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Great photo

Great man, RIP.

Aside: Why all the Brit/Yank aggro? Leave it out for once.

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