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Sir Francis Graham-Smith, FRS, FRAS, F Inst P

Eminent astronomer and Patron of Humanists UK

I was never much concerned with religion, but arrived at university having absorbed some conventional beliefs which I discarded when I started to think seriously about them. Astronomy helps by providing a perspective!

Born in 1923, Francis Graham Smith, received his PhD in astronomy in 1952 from Cambridge University, after spending most of World War II working at the Telecommunications Research Establishment at Malvern, where he gained experience in radar research techniques that later proved invaluable in his career.

After earning his degree, he began studying radio waves with astronomer Martin Ryle at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory and became one of the leading authorities on radio astronomy, writing many well-regarded books on the subject and helping to establish its importance in enabling investigation of celestial phenomena beyond the range of ordinary telescopes. He continued to search for and study radio signals over three decades, working in England and the United States, and still joins in with research at Jodrell Bank and writes text books. He is currently writing a popular science accountExploring the Universe by Radio.

Sir Francis has had a very distinguished career. He was President of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1975 to 1977, and was appointed Director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory in 1976, where he was involved in setting up the Northern Hemisphere Observatory on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, an observatory that remains internationally run to this day. He was Director of the Nuffield Radio Astronomy Laboratories at Jodrell Bank from 1981 to 1988, the thirteenth Astronomer Royal from 1982 to 1990, and Physical Secretary and Vice-President of the Royal Society from 1988 to 1994.

Awards for his work include the Royal Medal of the Royal Society (1987) and a knighthood in 1986.

In July 2001 he was one of the signatories to a letter published in The Independent which urged the Government to reconsider its support for the expansion of maintained religious schools.

Updated 2011

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