SIR FRED HOYLE Biography - Famous Scientists


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Born: 24 June 1915 in Bingley, Yorkshire, England                                             
Died: 20 Aug 2001 in Bournemouth, England                                                     
Fred Hoyle's parents were Ben Hoyle and Mabel Pickard. Mabel's father had died                 
when she was a small child. As a young girl she had worked in a mill in Bingley               
and had saved up enough money to study music at the Royal Academy of Music in                 
London. After training there she decided not to perform but she taught music in               
schools before marrying Ben. Like Mabel, Ben had worked in a mill. He had been                 
forced to leave school at the age of eleven since his family were too poor to                 
support his education any longer.                                                             
Fred's parents bought 4 Milnerfield Villas on the outskirts of the village of                 
Gilstead in south Yorkshire in 1910 and they were living there when World War I               
broke out in 1914. Their first child was Fred who was born at 4 Milnerfield                   
Villas just before his father was conscripted into the British army, choosing to               
join the Machine Gun Corps. Quite why he chose this is unclear for the chances                 
of survival were extremely slim and one might have thought that, with a wife and               
young child, he would have tried to maximise his chances. Obviously he did not                 
think in this way, and against all the odds he survived the war. It was an                     
extremely difficult time for Fred's mother who had to bring up her young child                 
in difficult circumstances, living in continual fear that she would receive a                 
letter telling her that her husband had been killed. Mabel earned a little money               
by playing the piano for the silent films in Bingley cinema. She also provided                 
Fred with his early education, in particular teaching him numbers.                             
After World War I ended Ben returned to civilian life and he set up a cloth                   
business (particularly dealing in wool) in Bradford, the nearest large town. At               
first the business did well and in 1920 it was decided to send Fred to a small                 
private school. However there was a sharp downturn in business in general in                   
1921 and by the time that Fred started school his father's cloth business was                 
suffering badly. The start of Fred's school education marked the beginning of a               
difficult time.                                                                               
Between the ages of five and nine, I was perpetually at war with the educational               
system. My father always deferred to my mother's judgement in the several crises               
of my early educational career, because she had been a schoolteacher herself ...               
events would suggest that my mother was unreasonably tolerant of my obduracy.                 
But, precisely because she had been a teacher herself, my mother could see that               
I made the best steps when I was left alone.                                                   
Fred only attended the private school for a few weeks in July 1921 before his                 
father decided to temporarily give up his failing cloth business and move to                   
Rayleigh in Essex. There Fred entered a school near Thundersley and immediately               
made friends with a classmate. The pair worked out a way to play truant but                   
before they had much chance to try their scheme out Fred's family returned to                 
Gilstead in November 1921 on hearing that there were problems with the people to               
whom they had let their house. Back home, Fred was returned to his first school               
in January 1922                                                                               
I returned to the same private school as before, but I returned no longer an                   
innocent child prepared to have irrelevant knowledge poured into my head by the               
old beldame who ran the place.                                                                 
In March Fred put his truancy scheme into practice and while his parents                       
believed he was at school, the school believed that he was ill at home. After a               
couple of months his parents found out what was going on, but he was allowed to               
choose a new school instead of returning. He decided to attend Morning Road                   
School in Bingley but there he performed rather poorly in tests that were                     
carried out. This was hardly surprising since he had avoided school most of the               
time up till then, and soon he was avoiding school again partly through genuine               
illness and partly through pretending to be ill during the winter of 1923-24.                 
Despite his attempts to avoid formal education Hoyle did show interest in                     
educating himself. He read a chemistry book which belonged to his father and                   
found an interest in the subject which would last a lifetime. However problems                 
at Morning Road School prompted another move and he began to attend Eldwick                   
school from September 1924. After Hoyle narrowly missed out on a scholarship for               
grammar school, an appeal was entered and he scraped through beginning his                     
studies at Bingley Grammar School in September 1926. His war with the education               
system had ended, and although there were still many educational problems ahead,               
he now approached education with a much more positive attitude.                               
In 1927 Bingley town library acquired a copy of Eddington's Stars and Atoms and               
Hoyle read it avidly. By the end of his first year at the Grammar School, he had               
progressed from his entry position of 16th in the class to top the class. His                 
interest in chemistry continued and as he neared the end of his school career he               
decided to go to Leeds University to study chemistry there. Taking the                         
scholarship examinations in September 1932 he narrowly missed out. Unable to                   
study at university without a scholarship, he returned to Bingley Grammar School               
but instead of working steadily through the year with the aim of gaining a                     
scholarship to Leeds at the second attempt, Hoyle decided to aim at a Cambridge               
University Scholarship. It was an ambitious scheme but one which he felt would                 
at least give him practice at taking such examinations.                                       
Bingley Grammar School did not really have the teaching resources to bring Hoyle               
rapidly up to Cambridge Scholarship standard, but the mathematics teacher did                 
his very best and gave him lessons in his own home. Hoyle sat the scholarship                 
examinations in Emmanuel College Cambridge in December 1932:-                                 
If a miracle happened and I won something in Cambridge, well and good. I would                 
be glad to accept it, but my real aim ... was to prove to myself that the                     
efforts of the past three months had really improved my standards.                             
Hoyle's performance was good in physics and chemistry but, as he expected, his                 
preparation for mathematics had been weak and the mathematics paper dragged him               
down. He missed the scholarship standard but decided to take the scholarship                   
examinations at Pembroke College, Cambridge in March 1933. This time his                       
performance was better and he did make the scholarship standard, but the College               
did not have scholarships for everyone who made the standard, and again Hoyle                 
missed out. However, he could now get into Cambridge by winning a scholarship in               
the Yorkshire scholarship competition and he was successful in this in the                     
summer of 1933, with now mathematics as his best subject.                                     
In the autumn of 1933 Hoyle entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge, intending to                 
read for a degree in science. His tutor was a mathematician, P W Wood, who told               
him at their first meeting that his mathematics was not good enough to read for               
a degree in science so he advised that Hoyle take Part I of the Mathematical                   
Tripos which would put him in a good position to study science after that with a               
better grounding in mathematics. So Hoyle embarked on the one year mathematics                 
course, entering at the bottom level of the slow stream. His aim was to get                   
himself into the middle of the slow stream by the time he took Part I of the                   
Mathematical Tripos and indeed he achieved better than this for he was in the                 
top quarter of this slow stream by the end of year one.                                       
Having achieved his aim in mathematics, it would have been natural for Hoyle to               
move into the science course as he had intended. However, he was always one to                 
rise to a challenge and having progressed so well it was natural for him to                   
wonder how much higher he could climb in mathematics. There was another argument               
which told him to carry on with mathematics which was that the great Cambridge                 
scientists like Newton, Maxwell, Kelvin, Eddington and Dirac had all been                     
mathematicians. He decided to carry on and entered his second year of study of                 
mathematics at the bottom of the fast stream. Again he progressed well and ended               
the year well into the top half of the class.                                                 
Hoyle was taught by some outstanding people while he was an undergraduate at                   
Cambridge. For example Born taught him quantum mechanics, Eddington taught him                 
general relativity, and he was also taught by Dirac. He was placed in the top                 
ten when he took the Mathematical Tripos in 1936 and was awarded the Mayhew                   
Prize as the best student in applied mathematics. Continuing to study at                       
Cambridge, his research was supervised by Rudolf Peierls and his career went                   
from strength to strength with the award of the top Smith's Prize in 1938 and                 
then, with Peierls and R H Fowler as referees, he was awarded a prestigious                   
Goldsmith's Exhibition. By this time he was being supervised by Maurice Pryce                 
who took over when Peierls went to the chair of Applied Mathematics at                         
Birmingham. In 1939 Hoyle published a major paper on Quantum electrodynamics in               
the Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society. Although Hoyle had                     
completed the work for a Ph.D. by then he was persuaded by Pryce not to submit (the           
Ph.D. was new to Cambridge and Pryce did not approve of it).                                   
Although his research was in applied mathematics, it was through the problem of               
accretion of gas by a large gravitating body which Ray Lyttleton discussed with               
him that Hoyle's interests turned towards mathematical problems in astronomy.                 
With everything going his way, with election to a Fellowship at St John's in May               
1939 for work on beta decay and receiving a highly prestigious award from the                 
Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, his career was suddenly put on hold with               
the outbreak of World War II                                                                   
War would change everything. It would destroy my comparative affluence, it would               
swallow my best creative period, just as I was finding my feet in research.                   
Shortly after the outbreak of war Hoyle married Barbara Clark on 28 December                   
1939. They had one son Geoffrey (with whom Hoyle would have several joint                     
publications) and one daughter Elizabeth. During the war Hoyle worked for the                 
Admiralty on radar, doing most of this work in Nutbourne. He had little time for               
research in astronomy but continued collaboration with Lyttleton when it proved               
possible (one occasion being when he had leave in 1942 for the birth of his                   
first child Geoffrey). During his time with the Admiralty Hoyle worked with                   
Hermann Bondi and Thomas Gold and he discussed astronomy with them in spare                   
moments. These three would later propose "steady-state cosmology" for which                   
Hoyle is probably best known.                                                                 
In 1944 he visited the USA because of his work on radar and while there he                     
worked out what was going on with the atomic bomb project. This led him to think               
of nuclear reactions, and out of this came one of his most important ideas about               
how the elements were created. He returned to Cambridge at the end of the war as               
a Junior Lecturer in Mathematics. His teaching duties were to give a geometry                 
course and a statistical mechanics course in 1945-46. In 1945 he published On                 
the integration of the equations determining the structure of a star which                     
discussed the most advantageous way of integrating the equations of stellar                   
equilibrium. In the spring of 1946 he wrote his important paper which developed               
from the ideas he had about the creation of the elements The Synthesis of the                 
Elements from Hydrogen which appeared in the Monthly Notices of the Royal                     
Astronomical Society.                                                                         
After three years as a Junior Lecturer in Mathematics, Hoyle was promoted to                   
Lecturer in Mathematics at Cambridge and given tenure. He stopped teaching                     
geometry, teaching instead courses on Electricity and Magnetism, and on                       
Thermodynamics. His range of publications broadened with works on many different               
topics and at many different levels. In 1948 he published two papers on steady-state           
cosmology. His first move into explaining science to a general audience came in               
1950. He broadcast five astronomy lectures on the Third Programme (now called                 
Radio 3). These were extremely popular and were often repeated, with versions                 
being broadcast in the United States and a book Nature of the Universe being                   
published based on the lectures. It was in the last of these five lectures that               
Hoyle coined the phrase "Big Bang" for the creation of the universe. Although                 
now accepted by most scientists, the term was actually meant to be a scornful                 
description of the creation theory which Hoyle did not accept.                                 
In 1957 Hoyle published his first science fiction novel The Black Cloud which                 
achieved much praise and has since become a classic (about a dozen of his 40                   
books have been on science fiction)                                                           
... he wrote [science fiction] successfully for more than three decades, winning               
a devoted following. His most famous novel was 'October The First Is Too Late',               
in which Britain and Hawaii remain in 1966, the Americas are switched back to                 
the 15th century and the Soviet Union exists in a future time when the surface                 
of the Earth is a plate of glass.                                                             
Hoyle also wrote the television serial 'A for Andromeda' and the children's play'             
Rockets in Ursa Major'. When this was performed in 1962 at the Mermaid Theatre,               
one critic wrote: "Seldom can scientific mumbo-jumbo have sounded so convincing."             
This writing, Hoyle believed, complemented his serious work, in the middle of                 
which he would stop to indulge in what he called "whimsical fantasies." He was                 
convinced that really important discoveries were most likely to come from an                   
exercise of creative imagination.                                                             
He became Plumian Professor of Astrophysics and Natural Philosophy on 1 October               
1958 after Harold Jeffreys retired, a position which he held until he resigned                 
in 1972. During his tenure of the chair continued to publish many important                   
works such as his collaborative work with William Fowler, Nuclear                             
cosmochronology published in 1960 in the Annals of Physics which described how                 
the observed ratios of the abundance of different isotopes of uranium and                     
thorium can be used to determine a cosmical time-scale. In 1966 Hoyle founded                 
the renowned Institute of Theoretical Astronomy at Cambridge and was its                       
Director until 1972.                                                                           
The events leading up to Hoyle's resignation from Cambridge in 1972 are                       
recounted in. He explained his reasons in a letter to Lovell (see [5]):-                       
I do not see any sense in continuing to skirmish on a battlefield where I can                 
never hope to win. The Cambridge system is effectively designed to prevent one                 
ever establishing a directed policy - key decisions can be upset by ill-informed               
and politically motivated committees. To be effective in this system one must                 
for ever be watching one's colleagues, almost like a Robespierre spy system. If               
one does so, then of course little time is left for any real science.                         
Following this he made his home in the Lake District but he continued to come up               
with interesting, and often unconventional, theories such as those concerning                 
Stonehenge, panspermia (that the origin of life on Earth must have involved                   
cells which arrived from space), Darwinism, palaeontology, and viruses from                   
space. I [EFR] was lucky enough to hear Hoyle speak about his theory that                     
Stonehenge was built as an eclipse predictor. It was an inspiring talk which,                 
like so much of Hoyle's work, really made one think about things in a new light.               
Hoyle continued to publish up to the end of his life with Mathematics of                       
evolution appearing in 1999 and A Different Approach to Cosmology: From a Static               
Universe through the Big Bang towards Reality (written jointly with G Burbidge                 
and Narlikar) being published in 2000.                                                         
Hoyle received many honours. He was knighted in 1972. He was elected to many                   
academies and learned societies including the Royal Society of London (1957),                 
the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (1969), the American                     
Philosophical Society (1980), the American Academy of Arts and Science (1964),                 
and the Royal Irish Academy (1977). He received many honours including: the                   
United Nations Kalinga Prize in 1968, the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical                 
Society in 1968, the Bruce Medal from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in               
1970, the Royal Medal of the Royal Society in 1974, the Dag Hammarskj÷ld Gold                 
Medal, the Karl Schwartzchild Medal, the Balzan Prize in 1994, and the Crafoord               
Prize awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1997.