|Astronomy & Geophysics 42 (4) 4.34|
|Flora Munro McBain 19122000|
Secretary of the RAS, first Editor of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, distinguished computer and applied mathematician.
Flora Munro McBain was the first woman to hold a senior position in the Royal Greenwich Observatory and the first to act as a Secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society. Her subsequent marriage to Donald Sadler, who was the Superintendent of HM Nautical Almanac Office and himself a former Secretary and later President of the Society, was described in the History of the Royal Astronomical Society (vol. 2, p157) as the romance of the decade.
Flora was born in Aberdeen on 4 June 1912 and was the eldest of three children. She left school at 15 and started work in a local shoe shop, but her headmaster persuaded her parents to let her return to school. She justified his hopes; she passed Highers in four subjects and obtained a bursary that allowed her to attend Marischal College in the University of Aberdeen, where she gained an honours degree in mathematics and physics in 1934. She was awarded a scholarship and was attached to the Medical Physics Department for part of her further studies.
The following year, however, her supervisor, Prof. John Carroll, persuaded L J Comrie, then the Superintendent of the NAO, to give her experience of practical mathematics during the summer vacation. She learnt the intricacies of eclipse computations and was a member of Carrolls expedition to observe the total eclipse of the Sun at Omsk in Siberia on 19 June 1936. During the long boat and train journey she learnt Russian and she was later able to use this facility during international meetings. She continued as a lecturer in applied mathematics until she joined the staff of the NAO at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, as a Junior Assistant in September 1937. By this time the NAO had become part of the Royal Observatory and D H Sadler had replaced Comrie as the Superintendent.
Her initial work was on the preparation of a supplement to the almanac giving details of the circumstances of the eclipse of 1 October 1940 and on the computation of the orbit of a comet by various methods as an illustration in the new volume of Planetary Co-ordinates for the years 19401960. During the war Prof. Carroll tried to arrange her transfer to work on radar but, in spite of a request from Sir Robertson Watson Watt, she remained with the NAO, which was then based in Bath and was carrying out special computations for all three services. She was promoted to the Assistant grade and after the war she was regraded as a Principal Scientific Officer; she was the first woman to be appointed to these grades in the Royal Observatory.
The NAO was among the first of the departments of the Royal Greenwich Observatory (as it had been renamed) to move to Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex in 1949. Flora was in charge of the work of the division that was responsible for the prediction, reduction and analysis of the observations of occultations of stars by the Moon. Nominally the results gave the errors in the theory of the motion of the Moon, but in reality they then provided the best estimates of the variations in the rate of rotation of the Earth and hence of ephemeris time. This work, like that of the production of the ephemerides, depended upon international cooperation and so Flora attended the General Assemblies of the International Astronomical Union from 1938 onwards. She was the secretary of Commission 19 on the motion of the Moon from 1955 to 1964. The occultation predictions were extended to cover radio sources and led to the discovery of the first quasar.
Flora participated in editorial work for NAO publications and for many years was responsible for the supervision of their proof-reading. It was this expertise that led to her election in February 1948 as the first Editor of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Up to this time the task of editing the RAS publications had fallen upon the Secretaries. When Prof. R O Redman resigned his position as Secretary in May 1949, the Council appointed Flora McBain to replace him and her editorial duties were taken over by G J Whitrow. The other Secretary was Alan Hunter, who was also on the staff of the RGO, and they worked well together until Flora resigned in February 1954.
The marriage of Flora McBain and Donald Sadler took place on 22 December 1954 in the presence of Sir Harold and Lady Spencer Jones and two former members of the staff of the NAO. There was no prior announcement and the marriage came as a complete surprise to the current members of the staff. Flora continued to work, but after a short while she reduced her hours of attendance probably so that she could devote more time to the preparations for the entertainment of guests at their frequent dinner parties. After a few years they moved from Floras apartment to a new home in Cooden Beach. Many astronomers from overseas who visited the RGO were entertained to dinner by them and they were also generous in extending their invitations to members of the staff and to some vacation students. Flora used to claim that at least one of the married couples at the RGO started their courtship after meeting at their home.
Flora continued to work in the NAO for a few years after Donald retired. She and Donald enjoyed travel, reading and the theatre. They attended the opera at Glyndebourne regularly and often invited others to join them. Flora played the piano and encouraged visiting children who were learning to play an instrument. Their activities were curtailed when Donald had a stroke, but with her help and encouragement he recovered to enjoy a few more years of retirement before his death in 1987. She remained at Cooden Beach for a few more years, but then returned to Aberdeen where she would be closer to her family. Her nieces have recorded how Flora had always been generous to her younger sister and to them and other members of the family. She had a bad fall in 1998 and had to move from her bungalow into a nursing home where she died on Christmas Day, 25 December 2000.
George A Wilkins
Flora McBain and Donald Sadler at their wedding, 1954
|Alan William James Cousins 19032001|
Fellow and medallist of the RAS, persistent photometrist and lifelong researcher.
Alan Cousins devoted himself in a remarkably single-minded way to the establishment and improvement of photometric systems. As a result, the CapeCousins UBVRI system has become the accepted standard system (see, for instance, PASP 113, 270, 2001). So much so that it is now no longer considered necessary to add the subscript c to R and I to distinguish them from other systems. His long career in astronomy began and ended with papers in Monthly Notices. Volume 84 (1924) contains his first published work, a visual light curve of the Cepheid l Carinae, and volume 323 (2001), published on the day of his death (11 May 2001), his last, a joint paper with J A R Caldwell on the effects of atmospheric extinction on U-B photometry.
Cousins was born in Cape Town on 8 August 1903 into a distinguished family. His father was a senior South African civil servant (at one time Secretary of Labour). His paternal grandfather had been a missionary in Madagascar for the London Missionary Society and had translated The Bible into Malagasy. Cousinss mother was a daughter of the first editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, Sir James Murray, and no doubt like his other children was employed as soon as she was literate in helping sort the thousand or so slips of quotations that arrived daily by post at the Scriptorium. The 11-year-old Cousins was in Oxford at the time of Murrays death and he attended the funeral there. One might guess that the single-minded devotion to the huge task his grandfather had undertaken impressed the young boy and influenced his own persistence in photometry.
Cousins was already making visual observations of variable stars while still at the Pretoria Boys High School and was in correspondence with one of the best known amateur astronomers of the time, A W Roberts, as well as with R T A Innes, director of the Transvaal Observatory. In 1922 he went to the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) on a Barnato Scholarship to study mechanical and electrical engineering. There he boarded with the family friend and Principal of Wits, J H Hofmeyer. The remarkably precocious Hofmeyer (who later became Minister of Finance, Deputy Prime Minister and the liberal in the WWII Smuts government) was then still in his 20s having been appointed to this post at the age of 24. After graduating with a BSc (Eng) and winning the medal for the best student, Cousins spent a year in England at the C A Parsons engineering works in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Returning to South Africa, he began a 20-year career with the Electricity Supply Commission at power stations in Durban and elsewhere in the country. Throughout this period Cousins continued variable star and other observations. However, in the early 1940s his interests took a new turn.
E G Williams had been carrying out an extensive programme of photographic photometry of OB stars at the Radcliffe Observatory, Pretoria, and at the suggestion of R O Redman had used a Fabry lens to obtain uniform images for measurement. Williams interested Cousins in the method and this proved the turning point in his career. His first list with photovisual magnitudes of more than 100 bright southern stars was published in 1943 (MN 103). The observations were obtained at the Durban Observatory with an 8-inch refractor and a camera of Cousinss own design. R H Stoy (Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope) was particularly impressed. He later recalled that these results as compared with those normally achieved up to that time by professional astronomers were of outstanding accuracy.
Stoy had long been concerned with the inadequacies of published magnitudes generally and those in astrographic catalogues in particular and was anxious to rectify the matter. A collaboration between Stoy and Cousins developed, initially on the use of rotating sectors to cut down the light of bright stars (MN 106) and in 1947 this led to Cousins taking up a post at the Royal Observatory (later the South African Astronomical Observatory). Good results were obtained by photographic Fabry photometry, but it became clear that technical advances in electronics made photoelectric photometry potentially much more attractive. It was on the application of the photoelectic effect to standard star photometry that Cousins spent the last 50 years of his life. Much of this work was published in observatory publications or in the local South African journal. It is thus probably less well known in detail than it ought to be. Nevertheless the consistency and precision which he, his colleagues, and those who followed up his work elsewhere, achieved are the basis for much of current astronomical research.
Although Cousins would not allow himself to be diverted from his chosen path, he was keen for others to follow up discoveries he made along the way. One of these was the variability of gDor, which his colleagues showed to be the proto-type of a new class of variable star.
Cousins retired from the full-time staff of the South African Astronomical Observatory on 31 December 1976 but remained in a part-time and consultant capacity. He was allowed to retain his official house on the grounds of the observatory and lived there for the rest of his life. He remained an active observer into his 90s, regularly making photometric observations with the 18 inch reflector for at least the first half of every clear night. Though he had to give this up in the last few years of his life, he came into the office daily to work on photometric problems.
The attention to detail and precision that dominated his work was also to be found in his life generally. At his funeral, in the Presbyterian Church of which he was a member, his grandson recounted how Cousins had phoned to ask him to help pump up the tyres of his car. He knew they were slightly flat because the distance between their two houses was 0.1 km greater than usual. This search for precision meant too that he found it impossible to express himself briefly in conversation. At times colleagues felt at his approach as the wedding guest must have felt on being held by the glittering eye of the ancient mariner. He was invariably polite, but no attempt to steer a conversation away from his chosen topic, or to end it, was possible. His frugality was legendary not to say notorious. At one stage he was using the chart rolls on which the photometric traces were recorded four times; both sides and two different colours of ink. These characteristics are those of a man who lived his life according to clear principles; a rectitude inherited perhaps from one grandfather and a persistence inherited from the the other. The latter, the lexicographer, had, as a young boy in Scotland, written on the flyleaf of his school book, Nihil est melius quam vita diligentissima (nothing is better than a most diligent life). This is something his grandson strove for and achieved.
Alan Cousins was elected a fellow of the Society on 12 September 1941 and received the Societys Jackson-Gwilt Medal and Gift in 1971. He was president of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa in 194445 and was awarded that societys Gill Medal in 1963 as well as becoming later one of its honorary members. Cousins was president of Commission 25 (stellar photometry) of the IAU in 196770. He is survived by two children and five grandchildren.
In preparing this notice much use has been made of material kindly made available by Dave Kilkenny and Ian Glass (who also has in press a bibliography of Cousin's papers). Ethleen Lastovica (SAAO) librarian) kindly provided the photograph from the SAAO Archives.
|Paris Pimi 19111999|
Fellow of the RAS, observer and theoretician, pioneer in astronomy in Mexico.
The name of Paris Pimi will remain forever associated with the foundation of Mexican modern astronomy. Paris Pimi was emeritus professor at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM). She spent more than 50 years at the Instituto de Astronomia, doing research and preparing many generations of Mexican astronomers.
Paris was born in Istanbul, Turkey, within an Armenian family. She completed her undergraduate studies at Istanbul University, much against her parents will, who did not consider mathematics a suitable career for a girl. She was one of the few women at the university. It is there that she met Prof. Freundlich, who had run away from Nazi persecution. He was advisor to her PhD thesis, and later helped her to get a scholarship to attend Harvard University in the USA, where she arrived in 1938. There she met the man who would become her husband, a young Mexican mathematician named Felix Recillas. Paris fell in love and came to Mexico with her husband in 1942. She stayed there for the rest of her life.
The year Paris arrived, the first astrophysical modern observatory was inaugurated in Tonantzintla. She was the only person in Mexico with formal graduate studies in astrophysics, and was immediately hired. A short time after, a young and enthusiastic lawyer who had exchanged law for astronomy, Guillermo Haro, came back from a one-year stay in Harvard and joined her at the new observatory. Three years later, he became director of Tonantzintla Observatory. While Haro did not like to teach, Paris, who had learned Spanish very quickly, started to lecture astrophysics to all the students she could attract at the physics and mathematics schools at UNAM. During her youth, apart from being mother of two children (who would become scientists too), she spent most of her time observing for her research work, teaching and advising students. I was lucky to be one of those students. Paris transmitted not only her knowledge, but also her passion for astronomy, and research. Listening to her lectures, learning to observe with her and, later on, being initiated into the wonderful world of scientific research by her, was an inspiring experience. She spoke about a scientists life as something wonderful for a woman and one could see that she really enjoyed it. She thus set an example to follow for the many women astronomers in Mexico. She also loved to draw, played the piano and sang beautifully.
During her long and fruitful scientific career, Paris was involved in both observational and theoretical work. She was particularly interested in the formation and structure of spiral patterns in galaxies. She made important contributions to the investigation of the vertical velocity field, the search of a third integral of motion, and the origin of the innermost mini-spiral patterns, which she always clearly distinguished from circum-nuclear rings. Her contributions are widely recognized. She also pioneered interferometric (FabryPerot) studies of the kinematics of galactic nebular regions. During the last years of her life she became interested in what she used to call mildly active galaxies.
Paris was the Mexican representative to the International Astronomical Union and a very active member of the IAU commission 28 (galaxies). She received many awards, including an honorary degree from UNAM. She will be remembered not only by the Mexican astronomers, but also by her many friends in the astronomical community and collaborators around the world.
|Deaths of Fellows|
Dr A W J Cousins
Born: 8 August 1903
Elected: 12 September 1941
Died: 11 May 2001
Mr J T Fisher
Born: 11 May 1925
Elected: 13 July 1984
Prof. F J Kerr
Born: 8 January 1918
Elected: 8 May 1964
Mr C A E OBrien
Born: 9 January 1914
Elected: 9 January 1970
Died: 17 February 2001
Dr D A Rackham
Born: 7 July 1919
Elected: 13 December 1957
Died: 15 May 2001
Mr F J Wallis
Born: 15 September 1930
Elected: 8 December 1967
Mr E W Wilkes
Born: 26 November 1918
Elected: 9 May 1958
Died: 15 May 2001
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