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Durham University

Van Mildert College

Van Mildert College

Welcome to Van Mildert College

Centred around a lake in spacious, leafy grounds, Van Mildert College offers a beautiful setting in which to live and study. As one of the larger hill colleges with a diverse community of over 1500 students, staff and mentors from all over the world, Van Mildert offers a relaxed and lively environment with a wide range of clubs and societies on offer. We are particularly well-known for our community and fundraising spirit, with our growing number of outreach projects. Van Mildert's sports teams and societies also play a huge and active role in the college community offering opportunities in personal development and leadership as well as fostering an inclusive atmosphere for all.

“There was a genuine team ethos demonstrated and staff are passionate about creating a good community of learning. The atmosphere in the college was positive. Students feel well supported and that staff are very approachable.” 
Commendation by the University Review Team, 2013


Professor Sir Arnold Wolfendale F.R.S. (1927 - 2020), Fellow of Van Mildert College

It is with great sadness that the College reports the death on 21st December 2020 of College Fellow, Professor Sir Arnold Wolfendale, aged 93.

Arnold was a larger-than-life character whose presence in College was stimulating, supportive, challenging and often outrageously amusing. A man who could make the Queen laugh (see link here) was a unique raconteur. He was a great supporter of the academic and artistic life of the College and, until ill health prevented him doing so, a regular attender at College events. His 2015 SCR Public Lecture, on the occasion of his presentation to the College of a painting by Rita Greer of the 17th century scientist Robert Hooke, will be remembered for a long time. It was also the rarest of occasions when he did not challenge the presenter with the first question of the evening.

Brought up in Lancashire, Arnold read physics at Manchester University, where he went on to gain a Ph.D. degree. From 1951-56, he held the post of Lecturer in Physics at that university before moving to Durham with Professor George Rochester F.R.S. in 1956. The move of Rochester’s group to Durham marked the beginning of the Durham Department of Physics as we know it today. Arnold was one of those pioneers and he remained active and influential in the life of the Department, the Colleges and the University up until his death. Promoted to Professor in 1965, he served as Head of Department for three periods from 1973-1977, 1980-1984 and 1986-1988. His research was mostly concerned with the physics of cosmic rays and the way in which these atomic particles interact with matter. He became famous for his development of two novel techniques: the neon flash tube and the 'solid iron' spectrograph. Together with colleagues from TIFR Mumbai and Osaka City University he developed largescale underground detectors to detect the cosmic rays, and in 1965 reported the discovery of the first atmospheric neutrinos in the Kolar Gold Fields Experiment. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1977.

Subsequently, Arnold’s attention turned to the origin of cosmic rays (more here), taking him into the field of astronomy, which with his characteristic energy and enthusiasm he established as a major research activity in Durham. His eminence in that field was recognised in his appointment as Astronomer Royal in 1991. He served as President of both the European Physical Society and the Royal Astronomical Society and was knighted for services to astronomy in 1995.

After retiring in 1992 Arnold retained his passion for physics, continuing active research with a number of collaborators across a range of scientific disciplines. In 2017 and 2018, with the College Principal, David Harper, he published a short series of papers in the journal Palaeontology debunking the possible periodicity of mass extinctions over the past 500 million years and their association with astronomical phenomena (papers available here and here). In view of his association with College, David thought it appropriate that the prize awarded annually to the most outstanding physics student in College should be linked with Sir Arnold, as a named award. When he raised this at a College formal, Arnold was delighted and before the Principal had returned home from the formal, had presented a cheque to the Principal’s wife to endow the award for a significant number of years.

In a short obituary, it is impossible to do justice to the impact that Arnold Wolfendale has had on the College, the University, the City, the Country and the world as a whole. We each have our memories of a man who, full of ideas, had a unique way of turning these ideas into reality. There is, for example, an apple tree behind the Department of Physics grown from the seed of Isaac Newton’s famous apple tree in Woolsthorpe. That was, of course, one of Arnold’s initiatives.

One of his first actions as Head of the Department of Physics in 1973 was to appoint me as Lecturer in Physics. He remained a valued mentor and supporter throughout my career.

Some years after the death of his wife, Audrey, Arnold married Durham anthropologist Dorothy Middleton in Sept 2015. Our thoughts are with her and Arnold’s family, both in sympathy for their loss but also in celebration of a great life, lived to its fullest extent. One of the giants on whose shoulders we stand has passed on. Arnold’s legacy will, however, continue to influence us all.

Brian Tanner
Fellow of Van Mildert College
Emeritus Professor of Physics
(5 January 2021)

Opera by the Lake with Sir Thomas Allen

Saturday 22 February 2020

An evening of opera favourites with Durham University's Chancellor and internationally renowned baritone, Sir Thomas Allen, took place at Van Mildert College on Saturday 22 February 2020. Sir Tom was joined by Durham Alumni soloists, Sarah Baillie, Bridget Tomlinson and Eleanor Penfold, along with The Feather Orchestra and Chorus directed by Matthew Morgan and Matthew McCullough. A review of the performance is provided below by Peter Coulson, a local freelance musician and Bass Lay Clerk at Durham Cathedral.

Van Mildert College was the perfect place to be on a wet and windy February evening last Saturday. The venue provided a welcome escape from the ravages of the weather, with the Ann Dobson Hall resounding in the glorious operatic sound world of Puccini, Mozart, and Verdi - to name but three of the noble army of composers on offer. Sir Thomas Allen - the University's beloved Chancellor - was in wonderfully entertaining form, as he engagingly took us through the plots which lay behind the various solos, duets and choruses. He himself sang with his characteristic compelling demeanour, delighting the audience with his magisterial account of 'Avant de quitter ces lieux' from Gounod's 'Faust'. He was more than ably supported by three soprano soloists, all of whom are Durham graduates - Sarah Baillie, Eleanor Penfold, and Bridget Tomlinson. With Matthew Thomas Morgan (moonlighting as tenor soloist) and Matthew McCullough taking turns to conduct the stellar Feather Orchestra (expertly led by the dependable Christopher Hartley), and the resplendent Feather Choir, it was an evening of musical excellence.

It was an evening of so many treats that it was difficult to discern a particular highlight, as every item all made an impression. We had a terrific, if slightly terrifying, Queen of the Night in Eleanor Penfold, a sensual duet from Monteverdi's 'Coronation of Poppea', again with Penfold and Bridget Tomlinson, the sublime Dido's Lament with Sarah Baillie, the incomparable Pearlfishers' Duet with Matthew Thomas Morgan and Sir Thomas, and a hapless Papageno with the Chancellor coping (hilariously) with a faulty set of pan pipes (all credit to Michael Cave for filling in the cue on his faultless piccolo). If I had to choose a particular favourite, I would plump for the quartet from Beethoven's 'Fidelio', which was sung with incredible sensitivity and musicianship from four of the soloists.

A great night, indeed, and one which was enthusiastically received by a grateful audience with a standing ovation.

Further details about the evening including photography and soloist biographies can be found here. Further information is also available via email from

Mildert leads the way as Durham University cuts back on single use plastics

Van Mildert College's student-led Green Committee is continuing to lead the way on a range of key environmental initiatives. Most recently this has included the introduction of reusable plastic cups, water bottles and shopping bags which are issued to all new students, along with reusable boxes for packed College meals and paper straws in the College Bar. The College is proud to have supported the work of its enthusiastic Green Committee and delighted to see their work recognised by the University which has recently signed the County Durham Single Use Plastics Pledge. Congratulations to everyone involved!

More information about the Pledge can be found on the Community web pages. Read the Pledge in full here.