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Fred Hoyle: discovery and conflict in astrophyiscs and cosmology

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Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) was an outstanding theoretical astronomer who was best known for his opposition to Big Bang cosmology. In 1936 he became a research student in nuclear physics at the Cavendish Laboratory, supervised first by Rudolph Peierls and then Paul Dirac, with whom he worked on quantum electrodynamics. His interests changed to astronomy in 1939, but he was soon whisked away from the Cavendish to work on naval radar throughout WWII . Returning to Cambridge in 1945, he worked in isolation on the origin of the chemical elements in stars. By 1946 he had discovered the nuclear reactions in the interiors of giant stars leading to the synthesis of elements from carbon to iron. Spectacularly, in 1953, he used astrophysics to predict an enhanced energy state in the nucleus of carbon-12. By 1957 he, together with colleagues at Caltech, could account for the origin in the cosmos of some 250 isotopes, a towering achievement. For two decades his theoretical work in cosmology caused sharp disagreements with his colleagues in the radio astronomy group in the Cavendish. His clashes with Martin Ryle (Nobel Prize in Physics 1974) were front page sensations in the tabloid press. This non-technical colloquium will review Hoyle’s contributions to physics and cosmology.

This talk is part of the Cavendish Physical Society series.

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