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In Memoriam: Prof. Rod Davies CBE, FRS (1930-2015)

Submitter: Michael Garrett
Description: Last weekend we received the sad news of the death of Prof. Rod Davies CBE, FRS. Rod was emeritus Professor of Radio Astronomy at the University of Manchester. He was previously the Director of Jodrell Bank (1988-1997), and chaired the European VLBI Network (EVN) Consortium Board of Directors (CBD) in the early 1990's. He was also one of the original board members that established the JIVE foundation in 1992.

I first met Rod Davies when, as a graduate student, I attended his course on radio astronomy receiver systems. I got to know him better when I was occasionally drafted in to support him during his reign as chair of the EVN CBD. I also had the opportunity of working alongside him in the Manchester physics labs in the mid-1990s. The first thing that struck me about Rod was he was a real gentleman - lightly spoken but very clear and precise in what he said. I remember being very impressed how easily he could shift between his role as director of a major observatory with all the pressures that went along with that, and his role as university teacher and student mentor. It was in the labs that I learned most from Rod - his understanding of basic physics was profound, and he saved my bacon on many occassions as I and the students struggled to get some vintage equipment to produce the "right" results - I think he was the only person that really understood what the notorious micro-strip experiment was supposed to achieve! While Rod was always polite and measured, he could also make his point strongly when he wanted to - I remember well being gently rebuked in his polite understated way for spending just a bit too long at lunch with the students one day.

Rod was the driving force behind Manchester's first steps towards being a major force in the study of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). Many were openly scpetical of this effort when the first high-frequency Dicke-switched horns appeared outside the Jodrell Bank Dev(elopment) Labs in the mid-1980s, and there were plenty of jokes about what these systems might (or might not) be detecting. However, once these experiments were transferred to the much dryer and sunnier climes of mount Teide in Tenerife, the performance of the system was transformed. Rod and his team (now including the IAC as local collaborators in Tenerife) were first able to set new limits on the isotropy of the CMB and later detected the tiny fluctuations of temperature on angular scales of 5-8 degrees. Later measurements, together with other ground and space based observations, formed the foundation of a new era of precision cosmology. With this fantastic track-record established, it was natural for Manchester, under Rod's leadership, to make major scientific and technical contributions to the ESA Planck CMB mission, in particular developing the space-qualified 30 and 44 GHz receiver systems. Rod was active in the analysis and interpretation of Planck data right up until his death.

In recent times, I was lucky enough to bump into Rod in the Alan Turing building in Manchester occasionally, and I could quiz him on the latest Planck results and in particular what the latest idea was about the anomalous radio emission that had been discovered as a new and unexpected component of the radio (galactic) foreground. Rod was also very interested to hear what was happening here in Dwingeloo at both ASTRON and JIVE.

Rod's death represents a major loss to our field but his contribution, and the graceful style in which it was delivered, lives on in the many students and colleagues that Rod inspired across the world. He will be sorely missed.
Copyright: ASTRON
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