My personal tribute to Prof. George Fraser


It has been a sad past week. One piece of news hit my e-mail inbox last week, that one of my old professors who I had seen only a few weeks earlier had passed away.

Prof. George Fraser, Director of the Space Research Centre, University of Leicester gave a great welcome and introduction to the UKSEDS National Student Space Conference 2014 (NSSC 2014) at the start of the month. He jokingly remarked how students were “in lectures…on a Saturday……at 9am”. He always had a great style of humour about him and was always in good spirits, whenever you’d meet him. As a graduate of the University of Leicester, I remember well his style of teaching and his anecdotes throughout lectures which would give valuable insight into the space sector. He was one of the select “greats” who made my experience all the more enjoyable.

Throughout my time at Leicester, I recall how he’d have a unique way of sharing the passion and knowledge of his subject. This is something that I soon realised was both nationally and internationally recognised in his support of student activities. I remember fondly his support of UKSEDS as he spoke in 2006 at the UKSEDS Conference, then held at the National Space Centre in Leicester. He spoke at a number of BROHP (British Rocketry Oral History Programme) which UKSEDS supported (before my time in UKSEDS Committee, which I later also helped to organise with the likes of David Boyce and Duncan Law-Green at the university).

He had a great ability to clearly convey complex ideas. He went on to become an influential figure behind the Space IDEAS Hub – a knowledge-transfer project based at the Space Research Centre, University of Leicester. He was involved in the development of the National Space Centre’s development from the outset and became a Non-Executive Director in 2004, shortly before I started at Leicester in 2005.

Prof. Fraser was a very well-respected academic with a long 36-year career at the University of Leicester. In 1977, he joined a group there including Profs. Mark Sims, Dick Willingale and Martin Barstow, who, as PhD students, worked on X-ray astronomy instrumentation. There he worked on many aspects of detector physics and on missions such as the Einstein Observatory and NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Earlier this year, he won the highly-prestigious Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) Jackson-Gwilt Medal which recognised his accomplishments, and was to be presented to him at the 2014 National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2014) to be held in Portsmouth in June. The citation notes:

Professor Fraser’s innovative technical developments have been central to many of the X- ray missions over the last three decades, several of which are still in orbit, working well and producing unique data on the high energy Universe. One example of his innovative skills is the so-called “lobster-eye” concept applied to X-ray imaging. This is the basis of instruments proposed for several future space missions. His influence has been felt at many levels, and he has written a widely used textbook on X-ray detectors. Professor Fraser has also successfully bridged the gap between academia and industry. His contributions have played a major role in what has been recognised as a “Golden Age of X-ray astronomy”.

There was much still for him to look forward to, including the launch of BepiColumbo – Europe’s first mission to Mercury – for which he was Principal Investigator for the Mercury Imaging X-ray Spectrometer (MIXS).

The space community has lost a true gem, but we take comfort that he touched the hearts of so many people and his contribution to science will always be remembered. He will be sorely missed.

Featured image – Credit: University of Leicester Press Office