Fred Hoyle An observer of the world and a ponderer on its problems ...

Years of Joy

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Hoyle arrived in Cambridge in October 1933 enrolled to study the Natural Science Tripos at Emmanuel College. Although a science student his college tutor, P. W. Wood was a mathematician. From the scholarship results he informed Hoyle that his maths was not good enough for a real scientist and advised him to take part one of the Mathematical Tripos.

Walking the hills in the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District in the summer of 1934, Hoyle pondered the challenge of continuing with the Mathematical Tripos, which included theoretical physics. Reflecting on the careers of outstanding Cambridge physicists – Newton, Maxwell, Kelvin, Thompson, Cockroft, Eddington and Dirac – they had evolved through mathematics. So the decision was made – to continue with the Mathematical Tripos.
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Hoyle set himself the personal goal of being in the top ten on graduation, as he would then qualify to continue in research, subject to funding.

Hoyle graduated with ‘honours with distinction’ and shared the Mayhew Prize for best performance on the ‘applied’ mathematics side.

For exceptional results the West Riding of Yorkshire would fund Hoyle for a further two years. For his final year of post-graduate research he received a Goldsmith’s exhibition.

He approached Rudolf Peierls to be his research supervisor and faced a dilemma when Peierls moved to the Professorship of Applied Mathematics in Birmingham in 1937. In December 1937 Hoyle submitted his research paper ‘On the Generalized Fermi Interaction’ winning a Smith’s Prize.
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After spending time in Birmingham Hoyle decided he could not leave Cambridge. Maurice Pryce became his supervisor until he moved to Liverpool. In 1938 Pryce proposed Hoyle as a member of the research group ‘Delta-Squared V Club’. Hoyle was immediately voted in as Secretary, whose main duties were to organise talks. Pryce suggested he approach Paul Dirac and Ray Lyttleton, both from St John’s. Dirac was to become Hoyle’s final supervisor.

In the early spring of 1939 he began a collaboration with Ray Lyttleton that extended over a decade or more. It had to do with the ability of astronomical bodies to acquire additional material through gravitational attraction. Much denigrated at first by the astronomical community, the idea has been seen in recent years to be an important astronomical process, with large numbers of papers on it.

Interestingly Hoyle never applied for a PHD on Pryce’s advice. Once granted a PHD a person was no longer classed as a student and thus became liable for income tax.

In May 1939 Hoyle was appointed to a research fellowship post at St John’s for 3 years receiving a Senior Exhibition worth £600 for 2 years and £250 pa plus accommodation and dinners from St. John’s. After years of managing on limited funds, he suddenly felt quite affluent. He bought his first car, a new 1936 twelve horsepower Rover costing £125.

In that same month he first met
Barbara Clark. She was in Cambridge for an interview and visiting her sister, having accompanied her maths teacher Richard Beetham, a fellow maths student with Hoyle in October 1933. They were married on her 18th birthday, 28th December 1939.