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Durham University

Research & business


Durham honours inspirational physicist

(4 January 2021)

Sir Arnold Wolfendale

We are saddened to hear of the death of Professor Sir Arnold Wolfendale, one of the finest physicists of his generation and an inspirational teacher to generations of our students.

Sir Arnold came to Durham in 1956, served as Head of our Physics Department and remained actively involved with the University until his death in December 2020, aged 93.

Ground-breaking research

Sir Arnold’s long-term research interest was in cosmic rays physics, and in particular whether the highest energy cosmic rays, which might have caused mass extinctions, were produced inside our galaxy as well as outside.

However, he had wide-ranging interests including particle physics, gamma ray astronomy, molecular hydrogen in galaxies, solar and geomagnetic variation, cosmology and terrestrial mass extinctions.

A glittering career

Sir Arnold was awarded many honours from all around the world.

He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1973 and a Fellow of the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of sciences, in 1977. He served as President of the Royal Astronomical Society and the European Physical Society.

Sir Arnold advised government departments and national bodies and was an unrivalled communicator of science. He held the prestigious honorary position of Astronomer Royal from 1991 to 1995 and was knighted in 1995.

Here at Durham, a lecture theatre is named in his honour and in 2001 we awarded him an honorary doctorate.

He delighted in lecturing both to students and to the general public.

International influence

Professor Nigel Glover, Head of Physics, said Sir Arnold’s work contributed to Durham becoming one of the leading international centres for space science.

“He was a formidable character and played an influential role in the Department, in the University and both nationally and internationally,” he added.