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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: May 2011

3 - THE STAR MAKERS

Summary

Even if there had not been a war looming, 1939 would have been a year of crisis, challenge and change for Fred Hoyle. He lurched from one supervisor to another under circumstances that might have caused a weaker student to give up. He had to decide whether to continue in nuclear physics or switch to astronomy. And he and his wife hardly knew each other when they married. Thankfully, however, he had finished up with Dirac as his supervisor and had secured very generous funding from the 1851 Exhibition and St John's. From now on, he could pick and choose what research to do.

For many scientists, the most creative years come after winning a postdoctoral fellowship, when they start to work with some degree of independence. To build a solid career it is important to choose the right place and the right people. Location and one's immediate colleagues are more important than choosing which intellectual puzzles to attack. Science has a social dimension and it is almost impossible to do research in isolation. Today, it would be very unusual for an ambitious scientist to do undergraduate study, postgraduate work, and postdoctoral research all at one university – even one as prestigious as Cambridge – as Hoyle had done.

Fred Hoyle chose to remain in Cambridge, when no doubt he could have gone to Birmingham or Manchester. Cambridge was a centre of excellence in astronomy, and he was determined to add to the towering achievements of Eddington.