Antony Hewish


Antony Hewish was born on the 11th of May in 1924 and was a British radio astronomer by profession. He won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1974 along with his fellow radio astronomer named Martin Ryle. He is most known for designing and constructing a dipole antenna in 1965 when he had the intention of studying solar winds as well as determining which stars are actually quasars. He received the Nobel Prize for Physics for the role he played on developing the radio aperture systems and how it plays a role in discovering pulsars.

Early Life and Academic Background

He was the youngest of three sons of a banker. He grew up in Newquay which was on the Atlantic coast and this made him develop a love for the ocean as well as boats.

Antony Hewish went to King’s College in Taunton. He earned his undergraduate degree at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge but this period of his study was interrupted by having war service for the Royal Aircraft Establishment and also the Telecommunications Research Establishment. It was at the latter where he got to work with Martin Ryle. There, he got involved with working on airborne radar-counter-measure devices.

He returned to Cambridge in 1946 where he completed his degree. Immediately after, he joined Martin Ryle’s research team which was in the Cavendish Laboratory. In 1952, he obtained his PhD from Cambridge and also became a fellow at the Gonville and Caius College where he earned his undergraduate degree.

In 1961, he transferred to Churchill College and became the Director of Studies in Physics. From 1961 to 1969, he was a lecturer and was also a reader from 1969 to 1971. He became the Professor of Radio Astronomy from 1971 onwards until his year of retirement. When Martin Ryle died in 1977, it was Hewish who assumed the leadership of the radio astronomy group in Cambridge and also became the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory head from 1982 to 1988.

Hewish had been influenced to have his own researches on astronomy because of his experience in electronics as well as antennas. Jack Ratcliffe, one of his teachers, also played a role in developing Antony’s interest in radio astronomy. Ratcliffe gave a course on electromagnetic theory when Hewish was attending his final undergraduate year. During that time, Ratcliffe was the head of the Cavendish Laboratory too.

Career in Science

The first research Antony Hewish did was about how radiation behaved in inhomogeneous transparent media—this also became one of his lifelong interests. At that time the first 2 radio “stars” had just been discovered. Hewish realized how the scintillation or what was called the “twinkling” of these stars can be used for probing how conditions are in the ionosphere. This would also allow him to estimate winds in the region.

He then developed his theory of diffraction through phase-modulating screens. He setup some radio interferometers to see where his ideas can take him. Because of this experiment, he was able to make the first measurements for the height as well as the physical space occupied by plasma clouds which were in the ionosphere. He was also able to estimate wind speeds in the area.

After the interplanetary scintillation discoveries in Cambridge, he then developed similar methods for getting measurements of solar wind from the ground. His innovations were later on adopted in Japan, the USA, and India, especially for purposes of long-term studies. Another breakthrough he was able to do was to come up with a high-angular resolution for radio astronomy which was equal to in interferometer which has a baseline of a thousand kilometers—this was something which had not been previously achieved in the field.

In 1965, Hewish was able to obtain the funds for making the antenna which won the Nobel Prize recognition. Two years later, the antenna was completed and with it, the sky survey for detecting scintillating sources began to happen in July. By chance, the information gathered was exactly what was needed for the detection of pulsars.

It was one of his students named Jocelyn Bell who was able to discover the radio source which was then first recognized as a pulsar. They published a paper announcing their discovery, and though it had five authors, Hewish’s name was first, and Bell’s next. Because of the contribution of Bell for the discovery of the first pulsar, there was even a controversy about the Nobel Prize which Hewish won with Ryle. It was even called the “No-Bell” prize since the supervisor of Jocelyn Bell, Fred Hoyle, believed that she should also have shared the Nobel Prize in honor of her part in the discovery. Bell, however, stated that she was not upset not having won the Nobel Prize.

Legacy and Latter Years

Today, the phase array instrument which Hewish developed is still a useful instrument. It is still being used, and it has continued to improve over the years. Its main use is for supporting the daily observations of different scintillations and for mapping any kind of disturbance, more specifically the large-scale ones that solar winds have. It also makes seeing the interplanetary weather conditions possible. It can be added to spacecrafts for bringing back useful information from the atmosphere where they are located.

Antony Hewish was able to develop a certain association with London’s Royal Institution. The director then was Sir Lawrence Bragg. Hewish was even invited to co-deliver what was known as the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture about the Exploration of the Universe in 1965. After that, he held his Friday Evening Discourses where relevant topics would be discussed with the interested individuals. In 1977, he was made one of the professors of the Royal Institution.

Apart from the Nobel Prize for Physics, Hewish also received other awards such as the Eddington Medal in 1969, the IOP Charles Vernon Boys Prize in 1970, the IURS John Howard Dellinger Medal in 1972, the William Hopkins Prize in 1973, and the Hughes Medal in 1997, among many others.