Fred Hoyle An observer of the world and a ponderer on its problems ...
Throughout his life, Fred Hoyle served as an inspiration to many, both inside and outside the world of science.
These contributions serve as an insight into his influence and are greatly appreciated.
Recollections are from those who met, were taught by him, read his writings or heard him talk.
SUMMER 1969 as seen through the eyes of Stephen Coope (aged 15)
"We camped at Sligachan with father and Uncle Fred. We should have known better since the midges were swarming around us in clouds. It turned out to be a superb day once we had climbed out of the midge-level. Uncle Dick accompanied us. He was staying with two friends in a house rented from Mrs Macloud. We were invited back for dinner. We skirted Bastair’s Tooth which Uncle Dick had reckoned to be too slippy, missed Scurr nan Fionn Choire, took the wrong chimney and ended up on a very difficult climb to the summit of Sgurr Nan Gillean. After all this we had difficulties in finding Mrs Macloud’s house. We finally arrived back at Sligachan to find our tent had been trampled underfoot by cattle. It hadn’t been one of our best days but a lot of fun. The next day we moved down to greater comfort at Gaskmore. The three of us had a superb day on the Monad Liaths. A very long day but we knocked the lot off. The following day we moved out to Glen Dessary to do Coirechan, one of Uncle Fred’s remaining Munros. The weather was bad. We ascended by Mun Gully going to within a few hundred feet of the summit. The summit was hit directly thanks to Uncle Fred’s compass reading."
THE MUNRO BUG
"In the 1960s Dick and Fred got the Munro Bug. The great logical brain sorted out how to climb remote Munros, often requiring three or four vehicles parked in remote areas. Nothing should deter the climbing of a Munro. Thus, staying at Blair Atholl Fred, Dick, Norman, Greg and John with four vehicles were due to set off to the Cairngorm Hotel climbing a Munro on the way. There was a commotion in the early hours when it was discovered that Dick Cooke’s Rover had been stolen. Although there had been little or no petrol in its tank the hotel manager had informed the police who were on their way to take details. Fred insisted that the details should be left with the manager for the police since it was far more important to have a good day out. Dick then joined Fred in the LandRover and left as the police came into the car park. When John informed the uniforms that the details of the stolen Rover were with the manager they were not amused. John followed Fred and Dick until he caught up with them and sounded the horn. This only encouraged Fred to drive faster. At the Cairngorm Hotel Dick phoned the police who were subdued as the Rover had been abandoned outside the police station. Everyone was surprised that Dick had not been unduly worried about the Rover but more importantly concerned whether his ice-axe was safe."
National Book Trust, India, 2016
by Jayant V Narlikar
My Tale of Four Cities is the English version of Narlikar's autobiography Chaar Nagrantale Mcyhe Vishwa written originally in Marathi. The book is divided in four parts. The first part represents the early years (1-19) in Banaras (V aranasi). The second describes the author's stay in Cambridge, England first as a student and then continuing as a Cambridge Don. The third part covers the 200 months in Bombay, that is, until the year 1989 when the author moved to Pune. The fourth part describes the post-1989 period in Pune, which includes the author's major achievement of creating a scientific institution of a unique kind. Known as IUCAA (Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics) this almost unique institution has already made a name internationally. The events, ambience, personalities that played significant roles in the author's life appear as the description unfolds. The author recalls his interactions with distinguished personalities like the philosopher S. Radhakrishnan, the writer E.M. Forster, scientists like Fred Hoyle, Paul Dirac, S. Chandrasekhar, politicians like Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, musicians like Narayanrao Vyas, architect Charles Correa etc. His time-span as described here covers the period 1938-2003, a period when there were significant changes in India on the political' front, on the technology front and on the educational front.
Trafford Publishing 2015
by Francis A. Andrew
Francis Andrew has completed a monumental ten year task of writing appraisals on most of the published works of the late Sir Fred Hoyle. It is truly a worthwhile accomplishment as most of Hoyle's books are now out of print. Francis Andrew's work therefore offers a great service in preserving the thoughts of one the twentieth century's greatest minds.
Gihan, Weerasekara. Dompe, Sri Lanka.
"A Great Man of Great Science" covers most of Sir Fred Hoyle's publications from his first in 1950 to his last in 2001. Francis Andrew's appraisal of each of these works is the next best thing to reading the original works of Hoyle himself. After reading these appraisals, one could well be tempted to take the next step and read the actual works of Hoyle.
Siddhant Bahuguna. Uttar Pradesh, India.
Francis A. Andrew has truly done a magnificent job in writing appraisals for each of Sir Fred Hoyle's works. As Francis' style of writing has done so much to make Hoyle come alive and inject into his works a relevancy for the twenty first century, so it would be that even if readers of this volume were unacquainted with any of Hoyle's books, they would surely be tempted to procure for themselves the original works of Hoyle.
Ajinkya Bhede. Maharashtra, Nagpur, India.
Le Cri Edition - 2010
by Jean Francois Viot
1957. Au milieu de la campagne toscane, une panne de voiture force un couple de Britanniques et leur ami beIge à gagner le village Ie plus proche. Barbara souffre de Ia chaleur. Fred, son mari, peste contre Ie monde entier. Georges, lui, prend les choses avec bonhomie. Certes, le contretemps est fâcheux : ils ne pourront sans doute pas honorer le rendez-vous que leur a fixé Ie Saint-Père. Mais leur cohabitation forcée n'est-elle pas, après tout, une extraordinaire occasion? Car en dépit de l'accueil chaleureux que leur réserve l’aubergiste Virgilio, une malicieuse partie d'échecs s'engage entre Georges Lemâitre, chanoine et concepteur de la théorie du Big Bang, et Fred Hoyle, son opposant Ie plus farouche.
Basée sur des faits historiques, Sur la route de Montalcino s' en écarte avec une joie évidente pour explorer une rivalité intelligente et pleine d'humour. Traitant avec une Iégèreté déconcertante d'un problème aussi scientifique que Ie Big Bang, la pièce invite à une réflexion sur Ie sens de I'existence. Brillant, raffiné et drôle.
Maître en littérature française et en études théâtrales, ancien président du Théâtre Universitaire de Louvain (UCL), Jean-Francois Viot, auteur dramatique franco-beige, a débuté au théâtre à I’âge de qulnze ans et a partlcipé depuis lors à la création d'une trentaine de spectacles comme assistant, metteur en scène, comédien, musicien au adaptateur. Sur la route de Montalcino, sa cinquième pièce, a reçu en 2008 le prix Verdickt-Rijdams, de l’Académic Royale récompensant une œuvre mettant en rapport les arts et les sciences.
1957. Amidst the Tuscan countryside, a car breakdown forces a British couple and their Belgian friend to reach the nearest village. Barbara suffers from the heat. Fred, her husband, is holding a grudge against the whole world. Georges accepts things the way they are. Of course, this delay is inconvenient: they will probably not be able to be at the appointment given by the Holy Father. But isn’t their forced co-habitation an extraordinary opportunity after all? Because, despite the warm welcome given by Virgilio, the innkeeper, a mischievous chess game is starting between George Lemaître, a cleric and inventor of the Big Bang theory, and Fred Hoyle, his fiercest opponent.
Based on historical facts, Sur la Route de Montalcino is happily escaping from the real story in order to explore an intelligent and humorous rivalry. Although the play lightly treats a problem as scientific as the Big Bang, it is an invitation to ponder on the sense of existence. Brilliant, refined and funny.
Master in French literature and theatre studies, and previous president of the Théâtre Universitaire de Louvain, Jean-François Viot, a Franco-Belgian playwright, started theatre at the age of fifteen years old and has since participated in the creation of about thirty plays, as an assistant, director, actor, musician or adapter. Sur la route de Montalcino, his fifth workpiece, received the Royal Academy Verdickt-Rijdams price in 2008 as an award for linking Art and Science.
Oxford University Press, UK - 26 May 2005
by Jane Gregory
Fred Hoyle was a down-to-earth, argumentative Yorkshireman who became the voice of British astronomy. For fifty years, he spoke out for astronomy in the newspapers, on government committees, at scientific meetings, in popular books and on the radio. He devised the steady-state theory of the universe and worked out how the elements are formed in the nuclei of stars. He also founded a prestigious institute, led the project to build a giant telescope and, if it rained on his summer holiday, he sat in his caravan and wrote science fiction novels for his legions of fans around the world. This book tells the behind-the-scenes story of one of the twentieth century's most distinguished and controversial scientists.
"(Jane Gregory) has a rare ability to combine a high level of historical scholarship with some very interesting ideas on the public understanding of science, all expressed in a highly readable narrative. "
- Dr Andrew Warwick (History of Science, Imperial College London).
"Among all British scientists, Fred Hoyle must be one of the most promising subjects for a biography. This is because of the importance and originality of his research; the fact that his science covers themes that attract wide public interest; and his role as one of the outstanding publicists of science."
Sir Martin Rees. FRS (Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge University)
World Scientific Publishing, UK - 15 April 2005
by Chandra Wickramasinghe
edited by Kamala Wickramasinghe
This is the story of the author's unique scientific journey with one of the most remarkable men of 20th century science. The journey begins in Sri Lanka, the author's native country, with his childhood acquaintance with Fred Hoyle's writings. The action then moves to Cambridge, where the famous Hoyle–Wickramasinghe collaborations begin. A research programme which was started in 1962 on the carbonaceous nature of interstellar dust leads, over the next two decades, to developments that are continued in both Cambridge and Cardiff. These developments prompt Hoyle and the author to postulate the organic theory of cosmic dust (which is now generally accepted), and then to challenge one of the most cherished paradigms of contemporary science — the theory that life originated on Earth in a warm primordial soup.
A Journey with Fred Hoyle is an intriguing book that traces the progress of a collaboration spanning 40 years, through a sequence of personal reflections, anecdotes and reminiscences. Ideas that were thought heretical 25 years ago are now quietly slipping into the domain of orthodox science.
"This is the story of the remarkable 40-year friendship and scientific collaboration between the British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle and the Sri Lankan mathematician and astronomer Chandra Wickramasinghe … The work they are most famous for is their painstaking building of the case for a cosmic origin of life. Wickramasinghe and Hoyle's picture of a galaxy teeming with life is a stunning one … The scientific community has come a long way towards Hoyle and Wickramasinghe's position, wholeheartedly embracing the idea of planetary panspermia."
- New Scientist.
"... An enlightening account of a 40-year scientific collaboration between two remarkable men."
- Sir Martin Rees. Astronomer Royal
"The Hoyle-Wickramasinghe collaboration was notable for the daring leaps over knowledge gaps they were prepared to make. This book is a valuable guide to their corpus, and can serve as a source of ideas and speculations."
- International Journal of Astrobiology.
Aurum Press, UK - 31 March 2005
by Simon Mitton
The first astronomer to publicise his subject on radio and television, Sir Fred Hoyle rose to national prominence in the 1950s as a result of his controversial ideas on the origins of the universe. Famous for his work on the thermonuclear reactions inside stars that made possible the beginnings of life, he developed the 'steady state' theory of the universe, soon challenged by the rival 'big bang' theory, which led to a bitter dispute between Hoyle and his rivals - not only fellow scientists but also archaeologists and palaeontologists whose conclusions he had challenged. This is a major scientific biography of one of the greatest, and best-known, scientists of the twentieth century, written in an enjoyable and accessible style.
"An elegantly written and thoroughly documented biography of a great and immensely influential scientist who was a fascinating personality as well."
- Sir Martin Rees, author of Our Final Hour and Our Cosmic Habitat.
"Fred Hoyle was a towering figure in 20th century astronomy and cosmology, and one of the most successful scientific communicators of his time. This is the first comprehensive exploration of both the science and the man, told by one of the few living writers equally familiar with both."
- Lawrence M. Krauss, author of The Physics of Star Trek and Atom: An Odyssey from the Big Bang to Life on Earth ... And Beyond.
"(Mitton's) lively writing and extensive research bring to life this important figure in the development of modern astronomy."
- Publishers Weekly
Cambridge University Press - March 2005
Edited by Douglas Gough
Fred Hoyle was a remarkable scientist, and made an immense contribution to
solving many important problems in astronomy. Several of his obituaries
commented that he had made more influence on the course of astrophysics
and cosmology in the second half of the twentieth century than any other
person. This book is based on a meeting that was held in recognition of his
work, and contains chapters by many of Hoyle’s scientific collaborators. Each
chapter reviews an aspect of Fred Hoyle’s work; many of the subjects he
tackled are still areas of hot debate and active research. The chapters are not confined to the discoveries of Hoyle’s own time, but also discuss up-to-date research that has grown out of his pioneering work, particularly on the
interstellar medium and star formation, the structure of stars, nucleosynthesis,gravitational dynamics, and cosmology. This wide-ranging overview will be valuable to established researchers in astrophysics and cosmology, and also to professional historians of science.
Douglas Gough is the Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics, and Director of
the Institute of Astronomy, at the University of Cambridge. He is an honorary
professor at the University of London, an adjunct fellow at the University of
Colorado, and a visiting professor of physics at Stanford University. His main research interest is the internal dynamics of stars.
Fourth Estate, UK - 4 October 2004
by Simon Singh
Albert Einstein once said: 'The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible'. Simon Singh believes geniuses like Einstein are not the only people able to grasp the physics that underlies the universe. We all can. As well as explaining what the Big Bang theory actually is, the book addresses why cosmologists believe that it is an accurate description of the origin of the universe. It also tells the story of the brilliant and eccentric scientists who fought against the establishment idea of an eternal and unchanging universe.
Simon Singh, renowned for making difficult ideas much less difficult than they seem, is the perfect guide to this journey. Everybody has heard of the Big Bang theory, but how many of us can actually claim to understand it? With characteristic clarity and a narrative peppered with anecdotes and personal histories of those who have struggled to understand creation, Simon Singh has written the story of the most important theory ever.
"This book is a blast. You would expect Simon Singh to be cosmic, mind-expanding and munificent with history and ideas. But besides all that, who knew that the Big Bang could be so much fun?"
- James Gleick, author of Chaos and Isaac Newton
- Sunday Telegraph
"[Singh] is a gifted expositor, ready to venture to places other science popularisers don't even try to reach."
- The Mail on Sunday
Kluwer Academic Publishers - 2003
Editors Chandra Wickramasinghe
This volume contains papers presented at an international conference to celebrate Fred Hoyle's monumental contributions to astronomy, astrophysics and astrobiology and more generally to humanity and culture. The contributed articles highlight the important aspects of his scientific life and show how much of an example and inspiration he has been for over three generations in the 20th century. There are few people whom it could be said they changed the way we perceive the world. Galileo Galilei, Nicholas Copernicus and Isaac Newton were amongst these. The inclusion of Fred Hoyle in this elite group may be contentious at the moment for the reason that in challenging the most cherished of Holy Grails in science he unwittingly offended many. But once the dust has settled over the many disputes that were raised and in the fullness of time there can be little doubt that Fred Hoyle will be ranked alongside these figures of history. Hoyle perceived science with an indomitable passion and an obsessive desire to find the truth wherever it lay. His singleness of purpose in this great mission and his deep suspicion of orthodoxy, his powerful intellect and imagination set him apart from most of his contemporaries in the last century. This volume included papers presented at a commemorative conference held in Cardiff in June 2002. The material divides naturally into several sections: Personal Reminiscences, Stellar Structure and Evolution, Cosmology, Interstellar Matter, Comets and finally Panspermia. Each article pays its own tribute to Fred Hoyle for his inspiration and guidance that led to major breakthroughs in astrophysics and space science throughout the 20th century.
With kind permission of the Master and Fellows of St John's College, Cambridge.
Dr (James) Rodney Mitchell Vaughan was an undergraduate at St John's College Cambridge reading mathematics and graduated in 1948.
SHIRAZ IRAN 1977.
David Dorren who took these photographs said…
… your father was visiting Shiraz to give a talk, and Yousef Sobouti and I took him to visit the Observatory, which is just
outside the city. I was at that time in charge of the observatory, running the observational program there. Yousef had set up the observatory, but did not himself observe. I took my camera (Canon Ftb SLR, Agfa CT18 slide film), but there was nothing official about the photos. The student present in the photos is Javad Siah, who went on to the
University of Pennsylvania to do a Ph.D. in Astrophysics and is now on the Physics faculty of Villanova University, PA. Later, at Yousef's house, we sat round the carpet in Iranian style and partook of Yousef's qalyun, waterpipe (hookah). I don't smoke, and I don't think your father did either, but we all took a puff of the watercooled smoke.
Yousef was originally from Zanjan in NW Iran. He left Pahlavi University (Shiraz University since the revolution) and founded a Research Institute in his home town, which he ran for several years until just this year he ran into difficulties with the present regime and has been forced out despite protests from the students ...
Recording of first lecture
Hello Mr. Hoyle:
This note is with regard to the attached email from Katie Birkwood, at St. John's College, Cambridge University.
As she indicated, I attended all three of your father's "Beatty Lectures" at McGIll University in Montreal, Canada near the end of March 1975. The lectures were superb, and were very well attended. At the time, I was a Lecturer/Producer at the Dow Planetarium, Montreal. I had the very great pleasure to meet your father and to attend a small reception for him at the McGill Faculty Club after the third lecture. I was a great admirer both of his work and his science fiction writings. He was kind enough to sign my copy of his book, "October the First is Too Late". I still have that signed book in my collection.
I provided Katie with MP3 files of all the Beatty Lectures, which I had recorded originally using a cassette tape recorder from near the front of the lecture hall.
You have my permission to use any and all of this recorded material on your website.
I also have a photograph that I took of Sir Fred at the very end of the first Beatty Lecture, on March 20, 1975. The original is a colour slide, but I have scanned it into the attached "jpeg". Of course, you are most welcome to use this photograph as well.
To the best of my knowledge, no other photographs or recordings exist of Sir Fred's Beatty Lectures in Montreal.
I send you my very best regards.
Howard J. Simkover, P. Eng.
This happened in the spring of 1964-65. A play was staged in the newly built Mermaid Theatre in London, on the south bank of the river Thames. London is well-known for plays, both the established traditional ones as well as new experimental plays. In Shakespeare’s times, there had been a theatre of the same name on the south bank of the river. The new Mermaid Theatre had been rebuilt on the same location, and new plays were staged there. On that day the theatre was full to the capacity.
But with a difference! The age-range of the majority of the audience was 8-14 years. Because, the play was written specially for school children. To suit them, its shows had been arranged during the Easter vacation. The unusual thing about the play was that its theme was science fiction and it was not written by a professional playwright, but by a scientist, well-known for his research.
The name of the play was ‘Rockets in Ursa Major’, and the author was Fred Hoyle. The play was just one more way in which Hoyle had ventured to bring the thrills of astronomy to secondary school students.
In the early parts of the twentieth century, the well-known scientist Sir James Jeans of Cambridge contributed significantly towards making astronomy popular among common people. The lecture halls used to be ‘packed’ at his lectures and his books were internationally read and acclaimed. Hoyle may be considered a worthy successor of Jeans.
Fred was born on June 24, 1915, in a little village called Bingley in Yorkshire. (Fred is not a shortened version of Frederick; in Yorkshire it is a complete name.) Fred’s father used to trade in cloth materials and his mother was expert in music, and was locally well known for playing the Piano. Fred developed interest in Piano as well as mathematics when he was small. His power of analytical reasoning was demonstrated at the age of three, when he had worked out the way to read and tell the time from a clock, all by himself.
At a young age, Fred got interested in Astronomy. The Hoyles, father and son would walk eight miles to the house of a friend who had a telescope, and would return in early morning after a night of sky watching.
An anecdote from his primary school days will illustrate how right from early life, Fred was an independent thinker. His class teacher once asked the class to go collect samples of the clover flower and to note that the flower has five petals. Next day, Fred produced a clover flower with six petals and asked the teacher how it squared with her statement of the previous day. The teacher, embarrassed and angered by this counter-example, chose not to answer the boy’s question but instead boxed his ear. Shocked by this unjust response, Fred came back home and told his mother that he would never go to the school where such injustice prevailed. His mother supported his stand and argued his case with the school authorities, who finally gave her permission to complete the school academic year under parental teaching at home and for the new year to change the boy’s school. Later in his life, Hoyle had to face many such incidents, whenever he challenged the set attitudes of the Establishment.
Considered a bright student in the school, Fred entered the University of Cambridge with two scholarships, to do the mathematical Tripos. He did the Final part with distinction and won the Mehyew Prize for best performance in physics. That was in 1936. After getting enrolled as a research student at Cambridge, within 2-3 years he found his research career interrupted by World War II. Like many other scientists, Hoyle, too, worked on wartime projects and helped develop research on the radar system.
After the war was over, Hoyle came back to Cambridge and started work on his favourite subject – ‘Astronomy’. This was a new era in his life.
His researches have given new directions to many branches of this subject. The origin of solar system, the evolution of stars, the origin of cosmic rays, the mystery of dust in the interstellar space, the origin of elementary particles, the formation of the Milky Way, radio sources, pulsars, quasars and, of course, his favourite branch – cosmology … In today’s era of narrow specialization, it is extremely rare to find a scientist with such a variety of research interests and with such a seminal record of contributions.
In 1948, together with Hermann Bondi and Tommy Gold, he proposed the steady state theory of the universe. At that time, the established opinion was that the universe was created in a huge explosion, the so-called ‘Big Bang’: and most of the scientists opposed this new theory. But Hoyle was firm in his conviction about the untenability of the big bang cosmology and was always ready to argue with other scientists. In fact, the popular name ‘Big Bang’ was given by Hoyle in a cynical description of that mythical primeval event. Decades later a popular astronomy magazine invited its readers to suggest an alternative name for the big bang model. They voted in favour of continuing with the name Hoyle had given!
In 1957, Fred Hoyle published his first science-fiction novel, called ‘The Black Cloud’. This book was a great success and many readers felt that in Hoyle they had a reincarnation of H.G. Wells! The motive for writing the book is worth mentioning. In the early 1950s radio astronomers had begun to discover that vast regions in the Galaxy and beyond were full of neutral hydrogen. A typical hydrogen atom exists in two states. In State I its electron spins in a sense opposite to the spin of its proton, whereas in State II both the particles spin in the same sense, in parallel directions. A hydrogen atom spinning in State II follows nature’s preference for the lowest energy state and so tends to change over to State I. Since it has lost energy in the process, it radiates that energy as a radio pulse of wavelength 21 cm. By picking up this radio wave the observer can deduce the presence of H-atoms in regions where the wave came from.
While astronomers were used to the preponderance of neutral hydrogen, they were not ready for Hoyle’s suggestion that galaxies like ours contain clouds of molecules organic as well as inorganic. His attempt to get a scientific paper carrying this idea published in a reputed scientific journal failed. How then to get this idea known? In the end he decided to write a science fiction novel around the theme of molecular clouds and that accounts for the genesis of The Black Cloud. Later, in the 1960s the usage of millimetre wave dishes vindicated Hoyle on this issue.
Hoyle has written quite a few science fiction novels. Some of them were written in collaboration with his son Geoffrey. The children’s play, described above, ‘Rockets in Ursa Major’ was subsequently written up as a novel by the father and son. ‘A for Andromeda’ and its sequel ‘The Andromeda Breakthrough’ were novels that grew out of very successful television serials on the BBC. The first serial had a new heroine called Julie Christie who became well known as a result of her performance in the serial. So much so, that her performance fee had shot up beyond what BBC could pay the heroine of the sequel.
My first encounter with Fred Hoyle was when as a maths undergraduate I attended his lectures on Electromagnetic Theory. My Director of Studies, R.A. Lyttleton, a colleague of Fred in St John’s College advised me to go to Hoyle’s lectures, although cautioning me that they may not be routine type. I soon discovered what he may have meant! Hoyle reversed the sequence of topics in the syllabus, starting with Maxwell’s equations rather than ending with them. But one could see the logic behind this step and also one could appreciate a broader look at the equations going beyond the terrestrial lab. Indeed I began to enjoy the lectures and appreciate the subject covered.
Later I had the opportunity of attending Hoyle’s lectures on general relativity and cosmology, which, again, provided new perspectives on these fields. These lectures were part of the Part III of the Mathematical Tripos syllabus. I had offered the courses relating to astronomy and theoretical physics, in the hope that if I did well I may get the chance of doing research for the Ph.D. degree under the guidance of Fred Hoyle. I very much wanted to do work on the steady state theory of which he was a co-author, the others being Hermann Bondi (then at King’s College, London) and Tommy Gold (who had joined Cornell University).
I did realize my hope of working with Fred, and one fine June morning I walked over to 1 Clarkson Close to keep my appointment with Fred at 10 a.m. Later I learnt that this and 3 p.m. were his favourite time slots for discussions. For me the second slot carried the additional attraction that (often) the discussion would end at 4 p.m. with tea and scones baked by Gram (Fred’s mother in law). That morning, during my first session with Fred, we discussed possible research topics, and I was somewhat disappointed to find that his list did not feature the steady state theory. Since Fred Hoyle, despite his formidable reputation was by no means formidable in his demeanor, I summoned up my courage to ask him about that omission. Whereupon he replied: “The steady state theory is controversial and as a policy I like to keep a fresh research student away from controversy”. However, as we shall see the events turned out differently.
In 1958, Hoyle became the Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy in the University of Cambridge. This Chair was earlier occupied by Sir Arthur Eddington and Sir Harold Jeffreys, who were stalwarts in their respective fields. Normally, professors in the University of Cambridge are considered to be well-known and well established pillars of the society. But, though very well-known and distinguished, Hoyle never became a part of the Establishment. Because, to be established, one requires a conformist attitude. Hoyle, by nature had the stubbornness associated with his native county of Yorkshire. His academic reputation, however, made him a well known figure internationally. His work on stars led to a long time collaboration with Willy Fowler of Caltech.
In 1960 during the Michelmas Term, Fred was going to Caltech on leave from his Cambridge assignment. This was going to be my first term as his student. Although Lyttleton was my supervisor during his absence, Fred felt that with my liking for general relativity and the problem I had finally chosen (from his list) to work on, I would benefit from weekly visits to King’s College, London where Hermann Bondi had gathered a relativity group. Rather than Bondi who had many responsibilities to shoulder, it was his younger colleague Felix Pirani that Fred wanted me to interact with. Accordingly on every Tuesday (the day King’s had seminars and discussions) I made a day trip to London. Ray Sachs, Roger Penrose and other experts who floated in or out besides Pirani himself provided enough food for thought and I particularly gained from Sachs’s discussions of spin and shear in cosmological models. Pirani also inducted me into the concept of spacetime symmetry and Killing vectors, a concept that helped me understand and solve Fred’s problem on my list. So it was that when Fred returned in early December, I was able to confront him with my response to his problem: “Here it is as far as it will go!” Fred, after reading my work carefully, concurred. And so my Ph.D. problem having been solved so soon, I needed another to keep me busy.
As it happened, my “work-vacuum” almost coincided with a controversy between Martin Ryle and Fred Hoyle. Around January of 1961, Ryle, the head of the radio astronomy group at Cambridge announced that his latest survey conclusively disproved the steady state theory. Ryle’s announcement led to a lot of media comment on cosmology with Fred at the receiving end of criticism. Past history showed that twice (in 1955 and 1959) Ryle had made similar claims and these were subsequently rendered inconclusive because of the large error-bars in the Cambridge measurements. Indeed, because of this past history, Hermann Bondi did not pay much attention to Ryle’s 1961 announcement.
Hoyle, however, took it seriously and felt that some reply to Ryle’s attack on the steady state theory was required. Wisely, he refrained from conducting warfare on the media pages or screens but chose to reply to Ryle when he was to present his work at the February meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society. Held on the second Friday of every month, this RAS meeting was due on February 10. Hoyle thus had barely two weeks to prepare his defence. The idea he was toying with was essentially based on a steady state model which contained inhomogeneities on the scale of 50 Mpc. (A parsec is approximately equal to three light years. Mpc = megaparsec = million parsecs). In an inhomogeneous model, different observers observing from different locations may not see the same local distributions of radio sources. Can one demonstrate that the variations so permitted also included what Ryle claimed to have observed?
Those were the days when the EDSAC ruled in Cambridge with punched paper tape carrying computer programmes. Fred had been trying to get the more modern computing facilities available in the USA, but so far without success. The model he had thought of required computations which I managed to carry out between the FACIT machines and the EDSAC. With 4-5 days to spare we managed to get a viable model that led to a steep source count as observed by Ryle, and that too without disturbing any of the fundamental features of the steady state model. Surely, I felt, at the RAS meeting Fred will have a good rejoinder to Ryle’s claim. Fred was indeed satisfied with what I had produced, but then he let off a bomb-shell. “Jayant, I must tell you that you will have to present this work at the RAS meeting.” He said, adding further “I have an unavoidable speaking engagement that day at about the same time as the RAS session.” I was shocked. I was being asked to challenge an experienced observer like Martin Ryle on the interpretation of his data. Ironically, I recalled Fred’s comment at our first meeting, that he did not want his students to be involved in controversies. Sensing my unease, Fred said: “So long as you are sure about your calculated curve, you can defend it against any adversary.” And he then trained me on how to present our work in the time slot of ten minutes allotted by the RAS. I rehersed the drill and on the 10th February did make a presentation well within the time slot. As I received compliments from several listeners, many of them not known to me, I thanked the absent Fred for the responsibility given to me. That afternoon’s experience gave me a confidence that stood me in good stead for many future occasions when I had to defend my work.
It would take me too long to describe all my experiences working with Fred over a period of four decades. The above described ‘first experience’ is indicative enough. I will summarize what I learnt from him. But before I do so, I must express my gratefulness to Barbara, Mrs Hoyle, who right from the early days treated me as one of the family. And also her mother Mrs Clark, (known as Gram) whose unforgettable scones, as I mentioned earlier, were star attractions of many a tea at the Hoyle house. It was very kind (and brave!) on her part to let me drive her to work in her Hillman Minx so that I could get enough practice to pass the driving test.
Finally, to come back to Fred, first and foremost I came to admire his critical outlook towards any ‘bandwagon’ idea. He deplored the way fashions developed in cosmology, and to a later extent in the rest of astronomy. In such cases most would follow the beaten track left behind by a chosen few: but not Fred. Rather, he felt that if so many bright brains following the same idea do not solve the problem, then it stands to reason that it was wrong and one should try other possibilities. So he did not hesitate choosing apparently outlandish ideas if evidence pointed their way.
As a young and inexperienced research student I felt embarrassed when Fred treated me as an equal, asking my views on one topic or another. Later, I felt at home at his informality. Indeed the RAS episode involving Martin Ryle was an example of his delegating responsibilities to students. In my later career as a research guide myself, I followed a similar policy. I let students describe or defend our joint work in conferences, seminars etc. This was in sharp contrast to seniors grabbing the podium to advertise themselves for work done by their students.
I learnt from Fred about institution building too. The Institute of Theoretical Astronomy (IOTA) created in 1966 was Fred’s brainchild. I could watch at close quarters his trials and tribulations, joys and frustrations as this unique institution took shape. I admired his detached attitude also. He had started the IOTA on the funds available for five years. When asked, what would happen to the Institute if after that period no funds are available, his reply was: “If IOTA is a success, there will be no shortage of funds; if it fails, there is no point in continuing it.” I wish some of the institutions in India and their patron scientists followed this policy. Anyway, what I learnt from Fred on institution building came in useful when I was given the responsibility by the University Grants Commission of India to set up the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune. Indeed one of my moments of satisfaction was when Fred visited IUCAA in 1994 and approved what he saw.
In retrospect, I find one aspect of Fred Hoyle’s personality which could have been different. He did not suffer fools and had no time for people whose ideas he found logically or observationally unacceptable. Very often he fell foul of the Establishment. So, even though he worked on different committees, he kept aloof from the Establishment. The IOTA was established by him in 1966, after a lot of efforts, but he did not stay as its director beyond one term. Getting into a controversy in local academic politics in Cambridge he left IOTA as well as his Chair of Plumian Professor and went to live in a small village in the Lake District. Living like a recluse and without any formal day-to-day connection with any institution, he still kept his research going. He had headed the project of the Science Research Council of the U.K. to establish the important Anglo-Australian Observatory in 1973. But, thereafter, he did not have links with governmental committees. In 1972, he was knighted, but even after becoming ‘Sir Fred’, he continued to be a rebel.
In spite of all this, even his critics admit his unique creativity, originality and extraordinary perception. It would not be an exaggeration to call this extraordinary personality, the Galileo of modern times. This is why I wish he were more tolerant of the opposition and remained in Cambridge at least till retirement. The younger generations of students would have benefitted just by watching how this great brain functions.
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