Development & Alumni Relations Office 

Professor Alexander (Alex) Dalgarno, DSc 1980; member of staff 1951-67; (died April 9, 2015 aged 87)

Obituary compiled from Queen's School of Mathematics and Physics, the American Astronomical Society and the Boston Globe. 

The School of Mathematics and Physics sadly reports the death of Professor Alexander Dalgarno, FRS.

Alex was born in 1928 and grew up in London. As a child, he enjoyed mathematical puzzles and did well at sports. He was invited to try out for the Tottenham Hotspur but his professional sporting career ended due to an injury, though he enjoyed playing tennis and squash into his ninth decade. He studied mathematics and theoretical atomic physics at University College London.

After completing his graduate study in 1951, Alex became a member of staff in Applied Mathematics at Queen’s working with Professor Sir David Bates, FRS, and where he served as the Director of the Computational Laboratory. After a 1954 visit to MIT, which had an electronic computer, he persuaded colleagues that Queen's needed one.

In 1957, the poet Philip Larkin was the best man at his marriage to Barbara Kane. The couple had four children - Fergus, Penelope, Piers, and Rebecca - but the marriage dissolved after ten years.

Professor Dalgarno remained at Queen’s until 1967, when he moved to Harvard University's Astronomy Department where he served as its chairman, and became the Phillips Professor of Astronomy.

During a career which spanned over 60 years, Professor Dalgarno made fundamental contributions to theoretical atomic and molecular physics, theoretical chemistry, scattering theory, and atmospheric physics.  His contributions led to the recognition that none have been greater "in the history of atomic physics and its applications" and to him being called the "father of molecular astrophysics."

A pioneer in the field of molecular astrophysics, he was awarded numerous prizes, including the Royal Society Hughes Medal, the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal, and the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics. In 1980, he received an honorary DSc degree from Queen’s.

Alex is survived by his four children, seven grandchildren and by his partner of 30 years, Fern Creelan.

The School of Mathematics and Physics joins the numerous colleagues and friends of Professor Dalgarno to express the most sincere condolences to his family.

Back to list




Top of Page