Professor Richard Davis, born in March and awarded an OBE for services to science, remembered by his brother Christopher

Professor Richard Davis

Professor Richard Davis - Credit: Archant

A man who was born in March and later awarded an OBE for services to science died aged 66 on May 2.

Richard Davis was the first born son of Hugh and Thelma Davis and grew up in March and lived in North Drive and latterly in Percheron Drive.

From 1960 to 1967 he attended March Grammar School for boys, now the Neal Wade School, and in 1968 won a scholarship to read natural sciences (theoretical physics), at the University of Cambridge, studying at Downing College.

No small feat for a railway-man’s son from a small Fenland town, Richard went on to study at the University of Manchester from 1971 to 1974, where he gained a diploma for advanced studies in radio astronomy 1972 and a Ph.D. in radio astronomy in 1975.

Professor Davis had worked at Jodrell Bank since arriving in 1971 as a postgraduate research student and had been a member of academic staff since 1978.

Developing the ideas in his thesis, he was one of the first scientists to design and and construct electronic systems for the developing new science of interferometry at Jodrell using the Mk II and Mk III telescopes.

This technology made Jodrell one of the major centre’s of radio astronomy worldwide and he was also project scientist for MERLIN, the 32m Cambridge Telescope and the Lovell Telescope that stands today at Lords Bridge, west of Cambridge.

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Most recently his work had focused on the Planck spacecraft – an international space mission to study the cosmic microwave background, the remnant radiation from the big bang.

He was the United Kingdom’s principal investigator for the Low Frequency Instrument (LFI) on board Planck.

He led the team, which designed and built the 30 and 44ghz space-qualified cryogenic radio receivers, the most sensitive radio astronomy receivers to date in these bands.

The spacecraft was launched in May 2009 and continued operations until the end of its scheduled mission in October 2013 providing the most accurate measurements of several key cosmological parameters.

At the time of his death, Professor Davis was leading the UK’s LFI post-launch support phase of the mission, which involved monitoring and analysis of the spacecraft instruments and remote in-flight tuning to optimise their performance.

Before he was taken ill, Professor Davis had travelled to Paris and then on to Italy where he became unwell and was hospitalised for a number of weeks before returning the UK.

Up until his death on May 2, he was being cared for at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield. In 2011 Professor Davis’ career was recognised, when he was awarded an OBE for services to science in the Queen’s birthday honours list.

In a manner that was typical of his modesty, on receiving his OBE he said: “Of course this is a great honour for me personally but I must say that this work has only been made possible through the efforts of a first-rate group of colleagues and friends here at Jodrell Bank.

“It is a pleasure to work with them.

I would also like to thank the university and the science and technology facilities council for their continued funding of this research.”

Over the course of his career, Professor Davis had published more than 150 papers in scientific journals, a number which would undoubtedly have increased rapidly as the results from Planck begin to appear.

In addition to his research, Professor Davis had for many years been an enthusiastic teacher of physics in the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy.

He had taught courses across a wide range of physics and astrophysics and supervised many undergraduate and postgraduate students.

A Fenman to the last, Professor Davis is survived by his sons William and Anthony who live in Macclesfield and his mother, Mrs Thelma Carter who lives at her home in Percheron Drive, March. Richard’s architect brother, Christopher lives in Cambridge.

Mr Davis’ funeral will be held at St Paul’s Church, Macclesfield on Wednesday May 25 from 1.30pm. All are welcome.

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