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Sussex mourns deaths of three physics professors

Over the Easter break three physics professors from the University of Sussex died from separate causes, leaving a substantial gap in the department.

Professor Wolfgang Lange

Professor Wolfgang Lange, aged 49, died unexpectedly at the beginning of this month on the way back from a conference that he was attending in Israel.

He had been professor of Atomic, Molecular and Optical physics for the past 7 years. He was working towards an investigation into the interaction between light and matter at the most fundamental level.

One of his many successes was the development of a unique source of quantum light which was set to take us into the age of the quantum internet. His obituary on the department’s website stated: “It is tragic that Wolfgang will not see further results of his hard work come to fruition.

“Wolfgang was exceptionally skilled and an internationally recognised physicist. He was a kind, humorous and thoughtful man and was liked by all of his students, colleagues, and friends. He will be very much missed by all who knew and worked with him.”

On the commemorative Facebook page set up in his honour, one of his students suggested that the new teaching laboratories be named after the three recently deceased professors; the proposal was met with a lot of support.

The student said of Lange: “One of my fondest memories of Sussex will be Wolfgang’s sense of humour and his wonderful heartfelt chuckle.”

One of his colleagues, and creator of the Facebook group, wrote: “His indomitable spirit, his unquenchable thirst for knowledge and understanding, his love of art and the levity and good humour he went about his magnificent work with are all pieces of Wolfgang that I seek to carry with me throughout my career and life. Bless you Wolfgang, we love you.”

On Thursday 19 April a documentary film commemorating Lange’s life and work was shown in Fulton A. The film, ‘Inside the Light’, is about the nature of light, “one of the mysteries that has fascinated mankind since the beginning of time”.

Professor David Axon

The Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical sciences since 2009, David Axon, also passed away during the break. It is thought that the cause of his death, on April 5 during a trip to America, was a heart attack.

He was visiting the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York State, where he had previously headed the physics department and where he continued to hold the position of research professor.

A colleague of his wrote on his commemorative webpage, “He was inspirational, supportive and above all, a very good friend. He will be sorely missed.”

His main research interest was in the field of active galaxies, and the evolution and structure of galactic nuclei. David undertook his undergraduate and post-graduate study at Durham University moving to the University of Sussex to do his post-doctoral research.

Throughout his career, Axon made a number of significant scientific findings. He discovered the first galactic superwind and revealed the presence of a supermassive black hole in the galaxy M87.

His obituary on the departmental website states: “David’s enthusiasm for astrophysics was boundless.

“David has led the school at Sussex with great success and has been a friendly and much admired face in the school and he will be sorely missed by all.”

Professor Kenneth Smith

Kenneth Smith, the founding Professor of Experimental Physics at Sussex, also passed away over the vacation. He was 88 years of age and had retired from his professorship at the university in 1988.

Smith came from a Cambridge backgrounf and his PhD thesis was considered so impressive that he was effectively appointed as head of the atomic beams group at the Cavendish Laboratory.

He then moved to the University of Sussex along with his group in 1962.

Smith served many roles during his time at the University of Sussex, firstly as the Chairman of Physics, then as Dean of the School of Mathematical and Physics Sciences (MAPS) and later as Laboratory Director.

He was also very active in the creation of what is now the Pevensey 2 building as he felt that it was necessary to create a space specifically for the study of physics.

He was presented with a bottle of champagne at one of the 50th anniversary events in late 2011 as the only surviving founding professor in the School.

On Wednesday 18 April there was a thanksgiving service for Professor Smith at Christ Church in Lewes.

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