[ASA] Professor Harry Messel

John O'Byrne john.obyrne at sydney.edu.au
Wed Jul 15 11:07:43 AEST 2015

At the ASA AGM last week it was announced that Professor Harry Messel, long-time head of School in Physics at the University of Sydney had just passed away, on the morning of 8 July.  Although he was not an astronomer, Harry was a member of the ASA for a while shortly after the formation of the Society and was a key player in the development of significant astronomical instruments in Australia in the 1960s and 70s.  He also a major force in science research, communication and education in Australia from his appointment in 1952 until long after retirement from Sydney in 1987.

Obituaries can be found at http://sydney.edu.au/news/physics/1737.html?newsstoryid=15206 <http://sydney.edu.au/news/physics/1737.html?newsstoryid=15206> and http://www.smh.com.au/national/the-man-who-made-sydney-scientific-20100519-vfco.html <http://www.smh.com.au/national/the-man-who-made-sydney-scientific-20100519-vfco.html>

None of these obituaries mention his key role in the establishment in the 1960s of the Molonglo radio telescope (near Canberra).  Harry appointed Bernie Mills to head the Astrophysics department at the University of Sydney and build the ‘Mills Cross’ radio telescope (as it was then known) that has served as a training ground for several generations of Australian radio astronomers.  Around the same time he also appointed Robert Hanbury-Brown to head the Astronomy department and build the Hanbury Brown-Twiss stellar intensity interferometer (near Narrabri NSW). This instrument was the trail blazer in the field of optical interferometry in astronomy, leading to Sydney University Stellar Interferometer (SUSI) and the development of optical interferometry in astronomy worldwide.

For those who knew him, Harry was a larger-than-life personality, the like of which we are unlikely to see again in Australian science.


Associate Head (Teaching & Learning), School of Physics
Associate Dean (Standards), Faculty of Science 
Secretary, Astronomical Society of Australia Inc. 

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