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Dr R J O (Bob) Reid

Colleagues will be sorry to learn of the death, on 18 May 2023, of Dr Bob Reid, a former academic member of the Astrophysics Group within the School of Physics and Astronomy, at the age of 92.  The following tribute has been contributed by his friend and colleague, Emeritus Professor Alan Watson.

Bob joined the Department in 1962 after completing a PhD on cosmic rays whilst holding a lectureship at the University College of the West Indies in Jamaica.  His PhD supervisor, C B A McCusker, was at the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies.  Bob took early retirement in 1989.

Bob was a leading member of the Haverah Park group established by Professor J G Wilson.  The Haverah Park site was the location of the UK’s efforts to study the highest-energy cosmic-rays, a joint endeavour involving physicists from the Durham, Imperial College, Leeds and Nottingham.  The cosmic rays studied had energies of over 1017 eV, and were detected using an array of water-Cherenkov counters spread over 12 km2 on moorland to the west of Harrogate. When Bob arrived, only a small part of the array had been built and he played a leading role in getting the additional 150 water-Cherenkov detectors, each holding 2.2 tonnes of clear water, deployed and made operational.

The array ran for 20 years, closing in 1987, with the measurements of the energy spectrum, the mass composition and arrival distribution of the cosmic rays, all the responsibility of the Leeds team, remaining the best available for a further 15 years.  Many of the techniques developed at Haverah Park are used at the Pierre Auger Observatory, a 3000 km2 instrument operated by an International Collaboration in Argentina.  Following the closure of the Haverah Park project, Bob, and others from the group, took part, jointly with scientists from the Bartol Institute at the University of Delaware, in an effort to observe photons of 1014 eV from the supernova SN1987A using an array constructed at South Pole.  Although no such photons were seen, the work led to an important Collaboration with a project that was the forerunner of the famous IceCube detector used to observe astrophysical neutrinos.

Bob was a devoted teacher who particularly enjoyed lecturing on Mechanics and Statistics.  His famous, counter intuitive, ‘bus problem’ puzzled many staff members, particularly those from groups who made little use of statistics.  The queue outside his office door during the week when the problem had to be explained to the students in tutorials was always interesting.  In his mechanics lectures, he would tell students that ‘if you don’t understand precession, you don’t understand mechanics’.  His interest in precession led him to a deep interest in the physics of boomerangs.  He made many, some of which were sufficiently light to be thrown in lecture theatres during his many presentations on the topic.  He threw one round the South Pole during his visit there in 1988/9 though he was not the first to keep a boomerang in the air for ‘24 hours’.  That record is held by Jay Perrett, whom Bob had persuaded to take on the study of the boomerang as a final year project and who later joined the Haverah Park group.

Bob served for one year as an acting warden at Bodington Hall and was the advisor to Overseas Students for several years.  After his early retirement, he taught for several years in the first year laboratory.  He also took a course in Geology, and with this new knowledge, developed the leaflet that describes the geological features associated with Roundhay Park.

Many will remember his open-topped sports car and his succession of labradors.  Bob influenced the careers of many people in many ways.  In my own case, we first meet 59 years ago next month when I came to Leeds for a job interview.  He was detailed by J G Wilson to take me out to Haverah Park.  It was a warm June day and we were in his Austin Healey Sprite with the top down.  After this trip, accepting the offer to join the Haverah Park group was a no-brainer and we became close friends almost immediately.

Bob is survived his two daughters and two grandchildren.