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Teaching and winning the Nobel Prize
Antony Hewish Astronomer
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I spent a lot of time doing undergraduate lecture courses of different sorts. You should never give an undergraduate course more than about 3 years running because you get stale, so I was teaching until… until I retired. And that all kept me very busy. And the award of the Nobel Prize means you gain some notoriety and that gives you opportunities to travel round the world and you get invited to lectures and meetings and this and that. And when they’re useful things to do, I tend to do… to do those. I went out to China, for example, a help… a little bit with radio astronomy. I… I’ve been to Korea and you get much more committee work, of course, to do once you’re established with your university chair and you have a reputation. And so that’s really… we stopped pulsars and the antenna continued doing what it was designed for and that led on to space weather. And that… that lasted really throughout my career. And that, with teaching, was… kept me very busy. I suppose you could say the only cloud in the sky over the Nobel award was the nasty remarks that Fred Hoyle made about it all. Fred Hoyle was a famous theoretician, was never a friend of Cambridge because Martin Ryle’s observations undermined and destroyed his steady state theory, which was a lovely theory but it just turned out to be incorrect. And there was great enmity, as… as you know – this has become public knowledge now – between Martin Ryle and… and Fred Hoyle. And when we, Martin Ryle and I, were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize, I was awarded it for the discovery of pulsars and Martin Ryle for the aperture synthesis which led to all his surveying of the skies here in Cambridge, he was really rather nasty about that, and the particular thing that he concentrated on was saying, well, we really kept the work to ourselves and that Jocelyn Bell didn’t get the credit she should have done and so on. That’s all absolute nonsense. She’s on record as saying that as a research student doing what she was asked to do, she really didn’t feel she should have been awarded the prize. And, I mean, she was a jolly good student, but Fred Hoyle somehow got into the press and said nasty things, like we didn’t… we didn’t give her proper credit for what she’d done, which was total nonsense. I mean, she was always… she was second author on the discovery paper, which… and she wasn’t involved with a great deal of the… of the post-discovery work. She was a good, excellent graduate student, she did all I asked her to do and she was extremely thorough and businesslike over it, but when it comes to initiating things she wasn’t involved. And the follow-up work after discovery, she wasn’t involved. I mean, she didn’t know what these things were, it was other people who got on to the neutron star ideas and measuring the distance and so forth. There were many things she could have done off her own bat if she’d wanted to, but she didn’t, and there was no question, I think, really that the Nobel Committee made the right decision there, much as it would have eased my life later if she had been awarded the prize. But… and feminists, of course, jump on the bandwagon here and I’ve had dealings with them as well. But that was the only cloud in the sky. Other than that, I think I’ve been immensely lucky to have been in Cambridge when all these things were happening, to have been led on by Martin Ryle in the sense of encouragement and the experience of working with him, and the group here which has been always immensely supportive. And I can’t really think of a better way of spending your life than to do research and teach at the same time, it’s an absolutely wonderful life and I wouldn’t have had anything… anything else. It was a pity about Fred, but there we are. He was… he was an interesting man but he was a quirky man as well, and life does these things to you, I’m… I’m afraid.

Born in 1924, Antony Hewish is a pioneer of radio astronomy known for his study of intergalactic weather patterns and his development of giant telescopes. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1974, together with fellow radio-astronomer Sir Martin Ryle, for his decisive role in the groundbreaking discovery of pulsars. He also received the Eddington Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1969.

Listeners: Dave Green

Dave Green is a radio astronomer at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. As an undergraduate at Cambridge his first university physics lecture course was given by Professor Hewish. Subsequently he completed his PhD at the Cavendish Laboratory when Professor Hewish was head of the radio astronomy group, and after postdoctoral research in Canada he returned to the Cavendish, where he is now a Senior Lecturer. He is a Teaching Fellow at Churchill College. His research interests include supernova remnants and the extended remains of supernova explosions.

Duration: 4 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2008

Date story went live: 25 June 2009