School of Physics and Astronomy

Professor Graham Thompson

It is with great sorrow that we announce the death of Emeritus Professor of Physics Graham Thompson on 30 May.  He was 75.

17 June 2020

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Emeritus Professor of Physics, Peter Kalmus a former colleague of Professor Thompson writes:

"Graham received his BSc and PhD degrees in physics at Imperial College. This was followed by two years’ postdoctoral work at Purdue University in the USA, and another six years at Oxford. His research was in elementary particle physics, using bubble chambers, then a leading technique for fixed target, external beam, experiments at accelerators.

In 1979 he became a Lecturer at Queen Mary, and was particularly attracted to an international collaboration, including Queen Mary, which was preparing to work at a proposed proton-antiproton collider at CERN. The collider provided vastly greater energy in the centre-of-mass than previous machines, and it was hoped to find the so-called massive W and Z intermediate vector bosons, which were predicted in theories which unified the electromagnetic and weak interactions. Completely different detectors were required for work at colliders. Graham contributed strongly to many aspects of this collaborative work, ranging from mapping the field of a large electromagnet (still used by QM colleagues forty years later in Japan, for neutrino physics), to devising jet-finding algorithms, and analysis of the physics. The project, known as UA1, was highly successful. The W and Z particles were discovered in 1983. The two CERN scientists who made the major contributions to this adventure received the Nobel Prize. The Royal Society chose this discovery for its 1984 Summer Exhibition. Many other physics results were obtained by the UA1 collaboration during the 1980s.

In 1988 Graham was promoted to Reader, and after more than ten years on UA1, QM physicists joined a collaboration, known as H1 which was to use the proton-electron (sometimes proton-positron) collider at the DESY laboratory in Hamburg. Graham spearheaded the design and construction of a crucial component for the experiment – a time-of-flight device which reduced unwanted background by a factor of a hundred, which would otherwise have swamped the experiment. He also contributed strongly to analyses of the physics. Results on the structure of the proton were exhibited at the Royal Society in 1994. Graham was promoted to Professor in 1998. He also served as Dean of the Faculty

After H1 Graham joined the ATLAS project at the CERN Large Hadron Collider. He supervised postgraduate students on all his projects, including some after his retirement working on QCD and jets.

Graham was an outstanding teacher. He taught many courses, some far from his initial research interests, thought deeply about them, and incorporated them as foundations for understanding the universe. He initiated a structured small group tutorial, and set innovative projects for final year students.

After retirement Graham became more interested in Cosmology and General Relativity. He attended astronomy courses at Gresham College, and organised and contributed to Science sections at local branches of U3A.

Graham was always at the forefront of stimulating and provocative discussions, over coffee, in the physics building or the SCR. These might be about a teasing problem in physics, or the shocking behaviour of our political leaders, or college management, or anything else. In the past few years such discussions continued regularly, over a drink and a snack, with other retired colleagues. He was a greatly valued colleague, a supportive friend, a great guy. We will miss him.

He is survived by his beloved wife Barbara and their daughter Sarah and son Ben."