News & Events

Professor Rod Davies CBE FRS

11th November 2015

Professor Rod Davies
Professor Rod Davies.

It is with great sadness that we must report that Professor Rodney Deane Davies CBE FRS passed away at the weekend.

Rod was a great inspiration to several generations of radio astronomers. Following a degree in Physics at the University of Adelaide he moved to the Radiophysics Lab in Sydney in 1951 where he began his life as a radio astronomer. In 1953 he moved to an assistant lectureship here at Jodrell Bank working with Bernard Lovell, later becoming the Director of Jodrell Bank from 1988 to 1997 and the President of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1987 to 1989. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1992 and awarded a CBE in 1995.

Rod worked on, and in many cases pioneered, new fields of radio astronomy throughout his career. His expertise spanned designing, building and operating experiments, working with technicians and engineers, as much as analysing data and developing new ideas.

His early work was on radio observations of the Sun whilst at Jodrell Bank he initially focused on observations of the 21cm line of hydrogen, first detected in 1951, and which he used to map the structure of our Galaxy and others. He also made some of the very first measurements of radio recombination lines from the interstellar gas in our Galaxy. However, he is perhaps most famous for leading Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) experiments, first carried out at Jodrell Bank and which then transferred to Tenerife during the 1980s and 90s. These experiments produced world-leading measurements of the CMB temperature power spectrum of fluctuations which reveal the structure of the early universe. Later, he was instrumental in establishing the Planck spacecraft mission as it is today and was closely involved in the interpretation of the data from Planck.

During Rod's tenure as Director of Jodrell Bank he was responsible for the start of a project to upgrade the Lovell Telescope, recognising that with increased capability it could play a leading role into the twenty-first century. He was also Director during a major upgrade to the MERLIN telescope array, completed around 1991 and making MERLIN a modern, useable, open instrument. It was transformed into a true national facility, funded by government, and widely used by the national and international radio astronomy community.

Even after retiring in 1997, as Emeritus Professor he continued to work tirelessly right up until the last few weeks. He co-supervised postgraduate students during his “retirement” and led several key research papers. The last of these was ‘Planck intermediate results. XXIII. Galactic plane emission components derived from Planck with ancillary data’ by Planck Collaboration et al., which was published very recently (August 2015).

Rod had been ill for some time although he had been facing this with his usual obstinate good humour. We will remember him, not only as a great astronomer, but as a genuinely nice man. Always entering the room with a smile, and always interested in the work of others and their concerns.

Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with his wife and family.

We, and the radio astronomy community worldwide, will miss him greatly.


Jodrell Bank Observatory, telephone 01477 571321.