Happy 100th birthday, Sir Francis!

Sir Francis Graham-Smith

On 25 April, University colleagues and friends came together to celebrate the 100th birthday of Sir Francis Graham-Smith FRS, FRAS, FInstP. 

Sir Francis, or Graham as he is known to friends and colleagues, was the second Director of Jodrell Bank Observatory, taking over from Sir Bernard Lovell when he retired in 1981, and he has had a remarkable career in astronomy.

It began as a student working at the University of Cambridge alongside Martin Ryle. There he played a key role in pioneering the new science of radio astronomy, providing some of the most accurate positions for the newly discovered sources of cosmic radio waves. 

In 1964, he was appointed as a Professor of Radio Astronomy at The University of Manchester and moved to Jodrell Bank. He worked on some early space-based radio astronomy experiments as well as ground-based detection of cosmic rays. 

However, when pulsars were discovered by Jocelyn Bell and Antony Hewish at Cambridge in 1967, his focus switched immediately to these new and important phenomena. Their study, using the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank and others, was to occupy much of the remainder of his career. 

Graham has continued to be an active member of Jodrell Bank’s pulsar research group, completing the latest edition of the research text ‘Pulsar Astronomy’ in his 99th year! 

The Astronomer Royal, Professor Martin Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow, said, “We are greatly indebted to Graham's sustained leadership to promote UK astronomy. It's wonderful that he is still with us to appreciate the amazing progress in pulsar studies that he helped to initiate. All good wishes for the second century!

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester passed on her best wishes: “Happy birthday Sir Francis and thank you for all you have done for Manchester and for astronomy globally’. 

Professor Andrew Lyne, FRS, Director of Jodrell Bank Observatory from 1999 to 2006, and himself a renowned pulsar researcher, added, “Graham is a supreme physicist and astronomer and has been a wonderful leader in the Observatory, the University and the country". 

In 1970, Graham was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. He then became Director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory in 1975 before returning to Jodrell Bank to take over as Director in 1981. From 1975 to 1977, he was President of the Royal Astronomical Society and, from 1982 to 1990, he was Astronomer Royal. He received a knighthood in 1986. 

Outside his work in research and scientific management, Graham has always been a strong supporter of and participant in public engagement with science. For example, he delivered the 1965 Royal Institution Christmas Lecture alongside fellow radio astronomers Sir Bernard Lovell, Sir Martin Ryle and Antony Hewish and - amongst many other activities including writing popular books and research-level texts - he played a significant role in the development and management of the public visitor centre at Jodrell Bank. He is also a keen gardener and beekeeper. 

Selected recent books 

Selected research papers 

Recent interviews 

"Francis Graham Smith @ Jodcast Live 21st nov 2009" by Yodatheoak is licensed under CC BY 3.0

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