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Astronomer by Chance (Sloan Foundation Science Series)

Code: GES0390
Auteurs: Bernard Lovell
ISBN: 465005128
Uitgever: Basic Books
Uitgegeven: June, 1990
Korte beschrijving: Astronomer By Chance is an especially apt title. Living in the small, isolated village of Oldland Common midway between Bath and Bristol, the twin pursuits of the young Bernard Lovell, playing the church organ and playing cricket, gave no indication of the key role he would play in the development of radar, radar astronomy, and radio astronomy.

Lovell briefly traces his interest in physics to his hours tinkering with primitive radios as a boy, a visiting Methodist preacher's comments on Einstein's theory of relativity, and perhaps, most importantly, an incidental visit to a physics lab at University of Bristol. His early years in physics - research in electrical conductivity of thin layers of alkali metals and the measurement of energies of cosmic ray particles in a cloud chamber - were abruptly terminated in late July, 1939.

Lovell was immediately assigned to secret radar research as bombing attacks by Germany were considered inevitable. Lovell's account of the war years is riveting. Radar capability was primitive, inadequate for airborne use in fighters, and useless for RAF bombers as not even major cities could be identified at night by radar. The young Lovell was soon managing the H2S project, the centimeter navigational and blind bombing radar system developed for night bombers of the RAF. With the stakes incalculable, research and development projects were transformed into operational capability in impossibly short time frames. This behind the scenes effort was not without risk as the Germans repeatedly targeted radar stations and R&D sites.

In the years immediately after the war, everything was in short supply and rationing continued. Nonetheless, Lovell was able to revitalize a project to conduct radio observations of meteor showers by acquiring surplus radio and radar equipment through his war connections. With spade and shovel Lovell and colleagues installed radio antennas and receivers on a University of Manchester property used for botanical studies. This inauspicious beginning eventually resulted in design and construction of one of the world's foremost radio telescopes.

The long, costly, controversial construction of the Jodrell Bank radio telescope (plus discussions of various research projects) comprise the bulk of Bernard Lovell's fascinating biography. The Jodrell Bank project far exceeded original cost estimates. Were it not for the tenacity of Lovell and a good deal of serendipity, Jodrell Bank would never have been completed.

Astronomer By Chance will appeal to a wide audience. Bernard Lovell's story is one of drama and suspense, and additionally, it offers a fascinating look at the development of modern science from the war years through the 1980s. The technical discussions target the layman; the more technical reader will find these sections more interesting for their historical perspective. I quite enjoyed Lovell's biography and I highly recommend it.