Vale Professor Bernie Mills AC FRS
3 May 2011
Professor Bernard (Bernie) Mills AC, FRS, was the fabled academic's academic. His sad passing brings to an end the beginning, for he was the last surviving member of the incredible group of professors - Professors Bennett, Butler, Blatt, George, Schafroth, Hanbury Brown, Watson Munro, McCusker and Mills, who during the late 1950s and early 1960s, helped put the School of Physics in the University of Sydney among the top research teams of the world.
His joining the School of Physics team was not easy, for 50 years ago strong research groups appearing at any Australian university, other than the newly founded ANU, or the government's main research arm, CSIRO, were far from being welcomed. This seems quite incredible today, with close ties and collaboration happily being the order of the day. But it sure was not so all those years ago!
Bernie Mills was already famous and known throughout the astronomical world by the early 1960s. He was the inventor of the then amazing Mills Cross - radio astronomy antenna with two crossed arms able to receive radio waves from the deep universe. By 1965 the Mills Cross with two arms, each 1.6km in length was completed at Molongolo, outside of Canberra and there it is still to this day, in the amended version, now carrying out important studies relating to the SKA, the giant square kilometer array, the world's largest radio astronomical facility, hopefully to be constructed in Western Australia.
In the mid 1950s I decided that if the School of Physics was to make an international mark in research, then we should choose fields in which Australia's geographical position gave it a natural advantage. At the time, we had the Southern Hemisphere to ourselves and thus it was that the fields of Astronomy and Cosmic Rays were chosen, with Theoretical Physics and Electronic Computing for support.
With little or no help from the Federal Government, the funding of the School's research was a major obstacle and thus it was that the Science Foundation for Physics was founded, the first such Foundation in the British Commonwealth. For years it and various USA Federal bodies provided the basic funding for the School of Physics. A grant of $1million US in 1964 from the US National Science Foundation enabled the giant Mills Cross to be built and opened in 1965 by the Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies.
Under Professor Mills the research work on the Cross went from strength to strength and by the mid 1970s over 300 pulsars had been discovered, over two thirds of those found at the time. A book could be written on the prolific research emanating from the Mills team. His students provided much of the effort at the giant 1000-foot Arecibo Radio Astronomy dish in Puerto Rico via Cornell-Sydney University Astronomy Centre.
Bernie was the mentor of many well-known researchers including Professors Dick Hunstead, David Jauncey, John Sutton, Don Campbell, Richard Schilizzi, Peter Shaver and Anne Green - the list goes on and on. A quiet but wonderful leader he has now embarked on the long last journey; long may he continue to surf the radio waves of the galaxies in the universe.
Contact: Alison Muir
Phone: 02 9036 5194