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Department of Physics

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The Physics Department mourns the loss of a well loved colleague, Mike Pennington

(27 May 2018)

Professor Michael Pennington 1946 - 2018

Our friend and colleague, Michael Pennington, sadly passed away on 23 May 2018 after a short illness. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his widow, Patricia. We will sorely miss his jovial attitude, his gentle encouragement and his collegial fellowship

Professor Michael Pennington: 1946 - 2018

As Head of the Department of Physics from 1999 to 2003, Mike Pennington played a key role in developing the Department as it is today, through the establishment of the Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics and the creation of two world leading Research Institutes: the Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology and the Institute for Computational Cosmology.

Mike first came to Durham as temporary Lecturer in Physics on leave from CERN for a term in 1976 and again in 1977. He then returned in 1978 as a senior research assistant, followed by joint appointments in the Departments of Physics and Mathematical Sciences as Research Officer (1981), Senior Lecturer (1990), Reader (1994) and Professor (1997). He held many leadership positions at Durham. As well as serving as an outstanding Head of the Department of Physics, he was Chair of the Physics Teaching & Learning Committee from 1999 to 2001, Chair of the University IT Strategy Working Group from 2007 to 2008 and Dean for Educational Outreach from 2008 to 2010. On leaving Durham in July 2010, Mike served as Associate Director of the Jefferson Laboratory for Theoretical and Computational Physics from 2010 to 2016.

Mike received a bachelor’s degree in mathematical physics in 1968 from the University of Edinburgh and a Ph.D. in theoretical physics in 1971 from Westfield College, University of London. His research focus was in the theoretical and phenomenological study of quantum chromodynamics, the theory of the strong nuclear force, and he published more than 200 scientific articles.

In his career, Mike served on a variety of international science groups, including participation as a member of the CERN SPS Committee and as a member of the DAΦNE Physics Working Group in Frascati, Italy. Mike also served as a chair of Jefferson Lab’s Program Advisory Committee, the panel that reviews and selects experiments conducted at the laboratory, before moving there as Director of the Theory Center in 2010.

Mike was a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Adelaide from 1998 to 1999 and a visiting scientist and Fulbright Scholar in the High Energy Theory group at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, NY. He was a fellow in the Theory Division at CERN, a research associate at Rutherford Laboratory in England, and a physicist in the high-energy theory group at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in Berkeley, CA. Mike was elected to the Fellowship of both the Institute of Physics and the American Physical Society.

Mike’s influence on the Physics Department remains very visible. In his tenure, the department grew considerably in staff numbers, in space, in range of research and in student numbers. Applied Physics moved from Engineering into the Rochester building, and the current undergraduate module structure was established. None of this came about by accident. Typically, on taking up his office, he had analysed which areas needed to change or to improve, and he developed a plan for how best to facilitate the changes. Most importantly, he was one of those rare academics who are also gifted leaders, able to communicate his vision to other members of the Senior Management Team and to bring them on board to effect the necessary transition.

Mike was a born educator and worked tirelessly to improve learning for all students. He was a legendary lecturer, meticulous in his preparation and writing clearly with his distinctive and transparent style on the board. For many years he taught the first year classes in classical mechanics and special relativity, and frequently his exam questions would reflect the personalities of the day. His conference talks were equally memorable and often the highlight of the conference. He communicated as he did most things, with style and panache.

To many of us, Mike was a mentor. We responded to his subtle encouragement to pursue productive directions, and we benefited from his arm around our shoulders when things did not quite work out as planned.

For us, his friends in Durham, the news of his passing on May 23 was a body blow, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to his widow, Patricia. We will sorely miss his jovial attitude, his gentle encouragement and his collegial fellowship. Mike Pennington’s professional legacy stands as a testament to his leadership, his vision, his ability to mentor rising colleagues, and his determination to make a difference. There is no doubt that his numerous contributions to Durham University, and to the field of nuclear and particle physics, will last far into the future.