Astronomy Bio...Sir Hermann Bondi

Jay Bitterman

Sir Hermann Bondi was born on November 1, 1919 in Vienna. During his early years he showed an interest in mathematics. He taught himself the basic knowledge of both theoretical physics and calculus. Bondi, after meeting Arthur Eddington during a visit to Vienna, decided to study mathematics at Cambridge University. In 1940 he earned a BA in spite of his being classified as an "enemy alien" resident according to the United Kingdom's General Order of May 1940 and was interned for security reasons. During his internment he met and became close friends with Thomas Gold. In 1941 he became a research fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge and received his MA in 1942. While working on naval radar for the British Admiralty in 1942 Bondi met Fred Hoyle. When they were joined by Gold, a noted astrophysicist, the three enjoyed discussing cosmology. After the war Bondi taught mathematics at Cambridge and King's College while continuing to collaborate with Hoyle and Gold.

On the basis of his first astrophysical research he was elected to a fellowship to Trinity College in 1943. From 1945 to 1948 he was an assistant lecturer and from 1943 to 1954 he was a University Lecturer. In 1947 he became a British citizen.

In 1948, in collaboration with Hoyle and Gold, the cosmological theory of a "Steady State Universe" was proposed. It postulated that the universe is the same in all directions all the time. For this to occur, as the universe expands, new matter must be created in order to balance its expansion. This cosmological model accounts for the expansion of the Universe not as the result of a singularity (as opposed to the Big-Bang model), but is a feature of the Universe as it has always been and always will be. This idea requires that matter be continually created by only 1 gram per cubic decimeter in 1036 years for the density of matter in the Universe to remain constant. This Steady State model was believed to resolve the apparent discrepancy between the age of the Universe and of our Earth and was a simpler theory than the Big Bang model. At the time, this theory did not contradict any of the available facts. In 1955 there was growing evidence that the Universe, was previously denser that it is today. In 1965 the discovery of "universal background radiation" accounted for the balance of an early hot state of the Universe. Another problem with the Steady State Theory is that the Universe appears to contain more helium than the theory predicts. So, currently there are few scientists that regard it as a viable alternative to the Big Bang theory of the Universe.

In 1951 he was a Visiting Professor to Cornell University and in 1953 he went to Harvard. In 1952 Bondi published his work "Cosmology " (reissued 1960). On his return to England, after touring many American observatories, in 1954 he was appointed the Chair of Applied Mathematics at King's College, London. In 1959 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Knight Commander of the Bath in 1973. His published works include "The Universe at Large" (1960), Relativity and Commonsense (1964), and Assumption and Myth in Physical Theory (1967). Bondi' has also added to the study of stellar structure, relativity and gravitational waves.

From 1967 to 1971 he was director-general of the European Space Research Organization. From 1971 to 1977 the chief scientific adviser at the Ministry of Defense. From 1977 to 1980 chief scientist for the Department of Energy, from 1980 to 1984 the chairman of the Natural Environment Research council and Master of Churchill College, Cambridge, from 1983. In 2001 Hermann Bondi (retired master of Churchill College, University of Cambridge) was awarded The Royal Astronomical Society highest award, the Gold Medal.

Published in the November 2003 issue of the NightTimes