Obituary: Donald Lynden-Bell CBE FRS (C3 1948-50)

Donald Lynden-Bell CBE FRS (5th April 1935 – 5th February 2018)

Donald Lynden-Bell was a ‘giant’ in the astronomical world and one of the UK’s leading scientists. The College has lost one of its great scientific alumni. Though not a household name, in astrophysics he was one of the leading names of his generation. Indeed Donald was known as one of the ‘Seven Samurai’ of astrophysics, a group who postulated the existence of what is known as the Great Attractor, an apparent anomaly in intergalactic space. His awards included the Schwarzschild and Eddington medals, the Gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) and most recently in 2008 the prestigious $1M Kavli prize in Astrophysics, perhaps second only to the Nobel. He is best known for his idea that most massive galaxies contain super-massive black holes at their cores and that these black holes power Quasars. In 2000 he received a CBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list for his services to astronomy. Most recently he appeared in the 2015 documentary film ‘Starmen’. Donald was President of the (RAS) when I was at University and was the first Director of the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge from whence he came to act as my external examiner for my astronomy and astrophysics Honours thesis viva and from when we became good friends. He was always enthusiastic and loved mathematical puzzles. His ability to tackle fiendish problems always left me in awe. To me, he resembled the cartoon character in Roald Dahl’s the BFG. He was larger than life, friendly and supportive and a giant in his field. Of his time at Marlborough College, he had fond memories and praised his maths and physics teachers, though admitted that he never really got involved at the observatory. Donald never really recovered from a stroke last year and after a short stay in hospital died peace fully at home near Cambridge where he had spent his whole working life. He is survived by his wife Ruth, Professor of Chemistry in Cambridge, with whom he had two children.

Obituary by C.E Barclay, Director, Blackett observatory and Vice President ‘A’ Royal Astronomical Society

You can also see obituaries in Astronomy Magazine, The Times and The Telegraph.