Professor Doug Heddle (1928-2015)

Head of Department of Physics, Royal Holloway College (1974–1985)

Doug Heddle was born in Dundee in 1928. He studied for a BSc in physics at the University of Reading and stayed on to do research for a PhD. The subject he chose for his research was the absorption of ultraviolet light by oxygen, and through a long and distinguished career his primary interests remained in the field of atomic physics. In 1951 he took up the position of research assistant at University College London, and in 1957 was appointed to a permanent position there. This allowed him to continue with his spectroscopic studies of electron excitation, particularly of helium. However, before long his interests in the ultraviolet led to his leading a major cooperation to study starlight and moonlight in the Southern Hemisphere. As he wrote in 1962: “A significant extension of the observable wave-length range into the ultra-violet requires observations from altitudes in excess of 100 km. Such altitudes can be reached only by rockets.”

Doug became a Reader at the University of York in 1965 and in the same year was awarded Fellowship of the Institute of Physics. At that time it was apparent that there was unobserved structure in electron excitation cross sections, and sophisticated techniques were required to investigate this. He therefore combined electron and optical spectroscopic techniques to study electron excitation. After his appointment to a chair in Physics at Royal Holloway College, London in 1974, he developed afocal, zoom, and even afocal-zoom electrostatic electron lenses. His publications on them span nearly 30 years (1970–2000): his book “Electrostatic Lens Systems” was published in 1991 and a second edition was published in 2000. It provides not only the theory of electron optics but also computer programs for the design of lens systems. On several occasions during this period Doug was a Visiting Fellow at JILA (Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics, Boulder, Colorado); was active on SRC grant awarding panels; and was on the Editorial Board of the prestigious reviews journal, Rep. Prog. Physics.

In fact, Doug came to Royal Holloway as Head of the Department of Physics. He poured enormous energy into the task, and not only continued with leading research on atomic physics and the development of electron lenses but also devoted much effort to the teaching of undergraduate and postgraduate courses. He was particularly involved with the development of electronics teaching and introduced a new course on computer interfacing, which was especially timely in view of the advance of computer-controlled physics experiments. In addition, as Head of Department, Doug found time to encourage young staff to obtain serious funding for their research. In particular, he knew intimately what the research councils would permit. As he used to say “Ask for exactly the right amount of funding to be sure of being able to achieve the research goals – neither more nor less”.

This account of Doug’s life would not be complete without a mention of his lifelong interest in sundials. In 1978 this led him to design an artistic sundial of novel geometry in memory of his Royal Holloway colleague Vic Little: this still stands outside the Horton Building of the College.

Doug decided to take early retirement in 1992, and was awarded an Emeritus Chair by London University. He died on 14 June 2015 at the age of 87. He had been a keen sportsman in his younger days (particularly in rowing), had enormous love of music, enjoyed the challenge of crosswords, and he and his wife Pauline were keen travellers. Sadly, Pauline died early in 2016. Both he and Pauline will be sadly missed by their children, Andrew and Ian, and grandchildren, Emilie and Peter, and by Doug’s many colleagues and friends.

Professor Roy Davies, Dr Susan Holmes and Dr Charlie Lucas, former Physics colleagues at Royal Holloway