Astronomy Bio...F. G. Smith

Jay Bitterman

Francis Graham Smith was born in Roehampton, Surrey, UK, on 25 April 25,1923. He Initially studied at Epsom College. In 1941 he attended Downing College Cambridge where he began to study natural sciences. In 1943, due to the war, his undergraduate studies were interrupted and he was assigned to the Telecommunications Research Establishment at Malvern as a scientific officer. In 1946 he returned to Cambridge to complete his degree. After graduating he stayed on at Cambridge as a student and collaborated with Martin Ryle to map radio wave emissions from the Sun. In 1948 while investigating the source of radio waves from the constellation Cygnus, Smith and Ryle detected a second source in the constellation Cassiopeia. Smith devoted subsequent years in trying to find the precise location of both sources. Eventually, astronomers at Mount Palomar, California, verified their optical counterparts.

In 1951 he was awarded the Exhibition Scholarship and received a PhD the following year. He and Ryle investigated the radio source in the constellation of Cygnus and later followed up, comparing findings with various optical astronomers. In 1952 Smith joined the Carnegie Institute in Washington DC, and spent a year as a research fellow before returning to Cambridge in 1953. In 1957, he and Ryle published a paper suggesting that radio signals from orbiting satellites could be utilized to aid navigation.

In the early 1960's, Smith energetically perused early scientific experiments using artificial satellites. In 1962 he installed a radio receiver in the satellite Aerial II as one of' a series of joint US-UK satellites. For the first time, he was able to detect and investigate radio noise above the ionosphere. In 1964 he was appointed professor of astronomy at Manchester and worked at Jodrell Bank under Bernard Lovell until 1974.

While at Jodrell Bank from 1964 to 1974, Smith studied radio waves from our galaxy and from pulsars. In 1968 Smith discovered the strongly polarized nature of radiation from pulsars and estimated the strength of the magnetic field in interstellar space. His theory is known as the theory of "relativistic beaming". The present day opinion in the field of pulsar research is split between supporting this theory and the "polar cap" theory. Smith was made director designate of the Royal Greenwich Observatory in 1974 and was appointed visiting professor of astronomy at the University of Sussex in 1975. In 1976 he became the full director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory until 1981. While there Smith contributed to setting up the Northern Hemisphere observatory on the island of Las Palmas in the Canaries. The observatory continues to be internationally run.

Smith returned to Jodrell Bank to become director in 1981 and in 1982 he was appointed Astronomer Royal. Currently he is emeritus professor at Manchester, continues to be actively involved in research as part of the pulsar group, and often gives lectures, most recently at the Jodrell Bank Visitor Center on March 19th, 2003.

Published in the April 2003 issue of the NightTimes