A short biography of Dennis Sciama


Dennis Sciama was a research student of Paul Dirac in Cambridge just after the second world war, working on Mach's principle - the idea that the nature of local physical laws is affected by the state of the whole Universe. He became passionately involved with developments in cosmology and relativity theory, interacting particularly with Hermann Bondi, Thomas Gold, Fred Hoyle and Felix Pirani and becoming for a while a committed advocate of the Steady-State theory of the Universe until eventually abandoning it in the face of mounting contrary observational evidence and switching allegiance to the Big-Bang picture which then became standard. He then became a pioneer of investigating astrophysical processes in the evolving and expanding universe, making full use of his extremely broad knowledge of basic physics to make fruitful links between different areas. His interests spanned studies of anisotropies of the microwave background, the structure of radio sources and quasars, X-ray astronomy, the physics of the interstellar and intergalactic medium, astroparticle physics and the nature of dark matter. Perhaps most significant of all was his advocacy of relativistic astrophysics, the study of black holes and the interaction between quantum theory and general relativity. The group which he led in Cambridge in the 1960s (including George Ellis, Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees and Brandon Carter) and his links with Roger Penrose, were immensely influential in this. After Cambridge, he subsequently led groups in Oxford (1970s and early 1980s) and at SISSA (1980s and 1990s), carrying on the earlier traditions and creating an ever-expanding "family" of students and collaborators. Well-known students from these later years include John Barrow, James Binney, Philip Candelas and David Deutsch.

He is remembered particularly for the excitement in doing physics which he communicated to those around him, for his charismatic lecturing and for his books ("The Unity of the Universe", "The Physical Foundations of General Relativity", "Modern Cosmology" and "Modern Cosmology and the Dark Matter Problem") which have been of great importance for introducing many people to these subjects.

Here is a link to the Dennis Sciama Memorial Lecture webpage.

Here is a link to the Sciama Legacy Bursary webpage.