Sydney radio astronomer honoured

Bernie & Chrys Mills with Grote Reber Award & Martin George

Chrys & Bernie Mills with Martin George & the Grote Reber Medal, photo Nick Lomb

Yesterday afternoon at Sydney University Emeritus Professor Bernard Yarnton Mills was presented with the Grote Reber Medal for 2006. The presentation, in the presence of many former colleagues, students and other supporters, was in the School of Physics where Professor Mills worked for many years. The former science minister and former ALP president Barry Jones was there for the first part of the proceedings. The Grote Reber Medal is awarded annually for innovative lifetime contributions to radio astronomy.

Professor Mills, known to all who know him as Bernie, is best known as the inventor of the Mills Cross type of radio telescope. The first of these was built at Fleurs to the west of Sydney in 1953 and a decade later the larger Molonglo Cross telescope was built for the School of Physics at Sydney University. This telescope has been most successful and after a number of upgrades it is still a leading tool for research.

During the afternoon there were many reminiscences about Bernie and the construction of the Molonglo Cross. The audience was reminded that it was built before the availability of personal computers, mobile phones and much of what we now take for granted. Developing the electronics for the telescope was a difficult and seemingly impossible task with what was then available. Yet, because of the determination of Bernie Mills, it was finished and worked extremely well.

I should say something about Grote Reber. He was the first to construct a dish shaped antenna to map the sky in radio waves. Astronomer of the 1930s were indifferent to Reber’s efforts and did not realise what an important part radio astronomy would play in the future of their subject. Reber moved to Tasmania in 1954 to continue his research. He died in December 2002.

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