Dr Tim Hawarden

Dr Tim Hawarden
Dr Tim Hawarden 1943 - 2009

British astronomy has lost one of its most respected and liked members with the sudden death of Dr Timothy (Tim) Hawarden. Tim was one of those people who changed his wavelength and discipline as the emerging challenges of astronomy dictated, and was successful in all of his ventures. He experienced a huge breadth of achievement; moving from photographic plates, through electronic detectors to infrared astronomy from the ground and subsequently from space. He was an acknowledged leader in his fields around the world and, in addition to his professional accomplishments, Tim was a keen practitioner of culinary technique. His bouillabaisse was legendary. In his later years he was a source of inspiration for young children in his outreach work.

Tim Hawarden began his career as an optical astronomer in South Africa. He graduated from the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg in 1966 with a BSc in Physics and Applied Mathematics, followed by an MSc in Astronomy from the University of Cape Town in 1970. This was followed by a PhD awarded in 1975. During his studies he first was employed by the Royal Observatory Cape to work on the transit circle and Parallax & Photometry programmes and then in 1972 moved to become the Computer Systems Manager and Deputy Head of the Photometry Department at the newly formed South African Astronomical Observatory. Tim’s early years were formed by learning the precise art of photometry from the legendary Cousins, and this focus on precision has stood him in good stead throughout his career.

His next career move was to Australia in 1975, where he spent three years as Deputy Astronomer-in-Charge of the UK Schmidt Telescope. This was one of the foremost telescopes at the time and formed the springboard for Tim’s subsequent career move, which was to the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, where he remained associated for the rest of his career, albeit seeing a number of changes to his employing agency (SRC/SERC/PPARC/STFC) and change of name and focus in 1998 to the UK Astronomy Centre (UKATC). Although formally in the Astronomy Group, Tim’s interest in the engineering and technical side - along with his excellent working relationship with the Chief Engineer Donald Pettie - , was a key factor in helping less experienced project scientists to work with the professional engineers in designing and building world-class telescopes and instruments for Astronomy.

Tim rapidly moved into the newly emerging field of infrared astronomy. His research by then had moved from stars and stellar clusters and was focussed on barred spiral galaxies and he was keen to employ the new tools coming on-line to pursue this work. The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope was the world’s premier facility and Tim became the Head of the UKIRT unit at the ROE in 1981, a post he held for the next six years, overseeing a range of developments that have stood the test of time and have provided the platform on which UKIRT has retained its world-class standing right through to this day. Keeping with the UKIRT theme, Tim was posted to Hilo, Hawaii as a support astronomer in 1987. He undertook a key role as Project Scientist for the UKIRT Upgrades Programme, a development programme that he had spearheaded as an approved project through the funding agencies.

In fact the UKIRT Upgrades programme was tremendously ambitious for the time and was a major undertaking that would transform the capability of the telescope and enable it to retain its cutting-edge competitiveness in spite of the emerging threat of the new breed of 8-10m ground-based telescope. The UKIRT Upgrades programme was one of the two defining pieces of work in Tim’s distinguished career and it is without doubt a fitting tribute that he presented a review of the programme at the UKIRT-30 Workshop in Edinburgh, only eight weeks before his death. This was also despite having chronic back problems at the time, making it a real struggle to get to the ROE to undertake the careful research that he felt necessary so that he could give the fullest and most accurate account for the record. This by itself says a huge amount about his dedication for a job well done and his pride in UKIRT.

While in Hawaii, Tim’s next role was to oversee the future development of UKIRT after the completion of the upgrades project in his new position of Head of UKIRT Development. He returned to Edinburgh in 2001 where his next role was as the UK Project Scientist in leading efforts to seek out opportunities for the next generation of large ground-based telescopes. He continued in this role until his retirement in 2006.

The other key area of work for which Tim will be remembered world-wide is his contribution to infrared astronomy from space. There are two strands to this; first as a Co-Investigator for the ISOCAM instrument for the European Infrared Space Observatory (ISO) and then for his work on Edison, which formally ran from 1990 to 1996 and for which Tim was the Co-Chair for the Technical Design Team. Although Edison failed to become a mission in its own right and in the process becoming possibly the most successful mission that never flew, there were huge and positive repercussions from the studies. Tim was the instigator of what became the norm for such missions in the future: passive radiation cooling, rather than relying solely on cryogens. This was breakthrough stuff and although Tim met initial severe resistance from the engineering establishment, typically he persevered and showed through detailed calculation that his ideas were sound. He soon gathered a strong following from fellow astronomers and eventually this idea was accepted and widely adopted. Tim’s legacy can be seen in missions as diverse as the Herschel Telescope, launched in June 2009, through to the James Webb Space Telescope, the Hubble successor to be launched in 2014. In acknowledgement of his expertise in the space domain, he was personally appointed by the NASA Administrator to his blue-ribbon Advisory Working Group on Long-Term Plans for NASA Space Science. This was a huge accolade and shows the esteem in which Tim was held, probably more so by his NASA colleagues than on the European scene.

Following his retirement Tim was a keen supporter of the ROE Visitor Centre in its outreach programme, specialising in ‘Meet the Astronomer’ where he captivated and inspired young schoolchildren with his engaging manner and his host of stories. In fact over three quarters of the Meet the Astronomer sessions were hosted by Tim. It is not widely known but Tim has always been a keen astronomer and he started as an amateur, going through the rite of passage of grinding his own mirrors for use. There can be very few professional astronomers who can confess to such fundamental accomplishments.

In all of the above there are a number of common threads that weave their way through his work and accomplishments. The tributes that have poured in from colleagues and friends all around the World have pointed to a number of shared feelings; his generosity, his integrity, his inspirational thinking out of the box, his painstaking care for getting the details right, and above all, his total infectious enthusiasm. Tim was one of those people who would come into work in the morning bouncing around with new ideas or improvements. He was always positive in his outlook but realistic in his expectations. So many people have made positive comments about Tim and given moving, humorous and touching anecdotes that we will be enabling a posting of these to be made on the web as a fitting tribute and legacy to a great individual.

In his private life he had a tremendous passion for history, geography and archaeology, substituting his eye for detail in science with an apparently encyclopaedic memory for any facts that caught his attention. Other hobbies indulged in at various times with his trade-mark enthusiasm included listening to classical music, writing poetry and sailing (for which his main reputation was causing the arrival of gale force winds as soon as the sails were hoisted). In his last year he had joined a choir, with whom he enjoyed songs from a wide range of cultures.

Above all of this, Tim was a wonderful husband. His love and care for Frances has been legendary and was admired by everyone. His sudden and untimely death will be a tremendous loss to her and his son Sam and daughter Kate. Tim will be remembered not only as an accomplished and leading astronomer, but as a true friend and a gentleman. He was one of a kind.

Ian Robson

Anecdotes & Memories

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