Mod­est and self­less au­thor­ity on the for­ma­tion of stars He ob­tained a PhD in the area of the­o­ret­i­cal physics, specif­i­cally the the­ory of ex­tra­galac­tic ra­dio sources and plan­e­tary neb­u­lae

The Irish Times - - Obituaries - Mal­colm Walm­s­ley

Prof Mal­colm Walm­s­ley, who has died aged 75, made an enor­mous con­tri­bu­tion to the science of star for­ma­tion and in­ter­stel­lar medium in the course of a long and distin­guished ca­reer.

That ca­reer took him from Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin to the US, Ger­many, Italy and ul­ti­mately full cir­cle back to the Dublin In­sti­tute of Ad­vanced Stud­ies, where, in re­tire­ment, he worked closely with a group of sci­en­tists early in their ca­reers.

His for­mer col­leagues Karl Men­ten and Ric­cardo Ce­sa­roni, writ­ing in the in­ter­na­tional sci­en­tific jour­nal Na­ture, said that although he was a “supremely con­fi­dent and suc­cess­ful sci­en­tist, he al­ways shared his ideas freely. He was a very mod­est and self­less per­son who ac­tu­ally flinched when ad­dressed as pro­fes­sore in Florence.”

He was born in Ranchi, northeast In­dia, where his fa­ther James, orig­i­nally from Co Down, worked for the In­dian civil ser­vice and his mother Molly Ea­son (of the fa­mous Dublin book­shop fam­ily) taught English. When In­dia be­came in­de­pen­dent, the fam­ily moved to Dublin, where he at­tended St Stephen’s School, Goas­town, be­fore board­ing at Camp­bell Col­lege, Belfast. In 1959, he en­tered Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin from where he grad­u­ated with first-class honours in math­e­mat­ics and nat­u­ral sciences.

In 1964, he went to the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at San Diego, where he ob­tained a PhD in the area of the­o­ret­i­cal physics, specif­i­cally the the­ory of ex­tra­galac­tic ra­dio sources and plan­e­tary neb­u­lae.

He met his first wife, Co­lette Mappa, who was on a schol­ar­ship from Bordeaux, at San Diego, and they moved to the Max Planck In­sti­tute for Ra­dio Astron­omy in Bonn, West Ger­many, in 1969, where he had se­cured a two-year re­search fel­low­ship.

He spent 25 years in Bonn, where his the­o­ret­i­cal ex­per­tise and ac­cess to a new 100m ra­dio tele­scope at Ef­fels­berg proved a recipe for suc­cess. To­gether with in­ter­na­tional col­leagues he be­gan to ap­ply the new tech­niques of mi­crowave molec­u­lar spec­troscopy to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the na­ture of the dense gas be­tween stars in our galaxy.

Im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tions

Among his most im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tions, the discovery in the con­stel­la­tion Taurus of a dense cloud with rich chem­istry, which was named Taurus Molec­u­lar Cloud 1, has be­come the bench­mark for stud­ies of the early stages of star for­ma­tion. Other piv­otal stud­ies in­cluded the anal­y­sis of spec­tra of sim­ple mol­e­cules, such as am­mo­nia or methanol, to mea­sure the phys­i­cal prop­er­ties of in­ter­stel­lar molec­u­lar groups.

In the fol­low­ing years, in Ger­many and af­ter­wards in Italy, he played a lead­ing role in rais­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of young astronomers and de­vel­op­ing mi­crowave ob­ser­va­tional astron­omy.

His wife died in 1986, and he and their two chil­dren re­mained in Bonn un­til 1994, when he was given a pro­fes­sor­ship at the Univer­sity of Cologne.

He mar­ried Antonella Natta, also an as­tro­physi­cist, in 1992, and in 1995 they moved to Arcetri Astro­phys­i­cal Ob­ser­va­tory in Florence to pur­sue fur­ther re­search into the early stages of star for­ma­tion.

In­ter­na­tional col­leagues cel­e­brated his 65th birth­day with a one-day in­ter­na­tional sci­en­tific con­fer­ence in Bonn.

He for­mally re­tired in 2008, but re­tained un­til 2014 his role as edi­tor of Astron­omy and As­tro­physics.

He is sur­vived by wife Antonella, his chil­dren Paul and Em­i­lie, step­son Alessan­dro, sis­ters El­iz­a­beth Ry­der and Joanna Crooks, and granddaughters Madeleine, Vi­o­lette and Is­abella.

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