Antony Hewish was a British radio astronomer who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1974 along with his fellow radio astronomer, Martin Ryle. He received his Nobel Prize for the role he played in designing and constructing a dipole antenna in 1965 which led to the discovery of pulsars.
Early Life and Academic Background
Antony was born on the 11th of May in 1924 in Fowey, Cornwall. He was the youngest of three sons; his father was a banker. He grew up in the Cornish town of Newquay, on the Atlantic coast of England. This gave Antony a love for the ocean and boats.
Hewish was educated at King’s College private school in Taunton, Somerset, England. From there, in 1942, Hewish was accepted as an undergraduate to Gonville and Caius College at the University of Cambridge. His studies were interrupted by the Second World War. For three years from 1943 to 1946 he worked for the war service at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough and also worked at the Telecommunications Research Establishment in Malvern. It was at Malvern, while working on airborne radar-counter-measure devices, where he first met Martin Ryle. They were later to share a Nobel Prize.
Hewish returned to Cambridge in 1946 and he completed his degree in 1948. He then joined Martin Ryle’s research team at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. In 1952, Hewish obtained his doctorate from Cambridge and he became a research fellow at Gonville and Caius College, where he had also earned his undergraduate degree.
In 1961, Hewish moved to Churchill College, Cambridge to become their Director of Studies in Physics. From 1961 to 1969, he was a lecturer and then promoted to a reader from 1969 to 1971. Hewish became a Professor of Radio Astronomy from 1971 onwards until his retirement in 1989. In 1977 Hewish became leader of the radio astronomy group in Cambridge and also was the head of the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory from 1982 to 1988.
Hewish was influenced to conduct his research on radio astronomy because of his war service experience in electronics and antennas. Hewish had also found the electromagnetic theory course during his final undergraduate year, given by John Ratcliffe, very memorable.
Career in Science
Initially, Hewish began his research on the ionosphere. The ionosphere is the layer of the Earth’s atmosphere that is ionized by solar and cosmic radiation. It lies 75-1000 km (46-621 miles) above the Earth. At this time, the first 2 radio “stars” had just been discovered. Hewish realized that the scintillation or “twinkling” of these stars can be used to probe conditions in the ionosphere. He developed the theory of diffraction by phase-modulating screens and set up radio interferometers. This allowed him to determine the scale of plasma clouds and estimate wind speeds in the ionosphere.
After interplanetary scintillation discoveries in Cambridge in 1964, Hewish then developed similar methods for getting measurements of solar wind.
Another step towards finding pulsars came when Hewish demonstrated that a high-angular resolution in radio astronomy could be obtained using interplanetary scintillation. Hewitt realized that he would need giant phased-array antenna for a major sky survey to gather the data he wanted.
In 1965, Hewish obtained the funds to make the antenna which earned him the Nobel Prize. Two years later, the antenna was completed and the sky survey for detecting scintillating sources began in July 1967. Although not explicitly searching for them, the information gathered from the sky survey detected pulsars. Pulsars are rapidly rotating highly magnetized neutron stars. They appear to pulse because they emit rapid and periodic pulses of radiation.
One of Hewish’s students, Jocelyn Bell, discovered the first radio source which identified a pulsar. A research paper was published announcing the discovery; it had five authors, Hewish’s name was first followed by his student’s. Antony Hewish and Martin Ryle were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1974 for their work on the development of radio aperture synthesis and its role in the discovery of pulsars.
Because of the contribution of Bell, there was a controversy about the recipients of the Nobel Prize. It was even called the “No-Bell” prize by Fred Hoyle, who believed that she should also have shared the Nobel Prize for her part in the discovery. Bell, however, stated that she was not upset by her omission.
Legacy and Latter Years
Today, the phase array instrument that Hewish developed is still utilized. Its main use is for supporting the daily observations of different scintillations and for mapping any kind of disturbance in the solar wind. It is also utilized to observe interplanetary weather conditions.
Hewish married Marjorie Elizabeth Catherine Richards in 1950. They have and has a son, who is a physicist and a daughter, who is a language teacher.
As well as the Nobel Prize for Physics, Hewish also received other awards including:
- Eddington Medal in 1969
- Institute of Physics Charles Vernon Boys Prize in 1970
- International Union of Radio Science John Howard Dellinger Medal in 1972
- William Hopkins Prize in 1973
- Royal Society Hughes Medal in 1976