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Sir David Bates (1916 - 1994):
Mathematician and theoretical physicist

David Robert Bates was born in Omagh, County Tyrone and educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Queen's University, Belfast, where in 1937 he graduated BSc with first class honours in mathematical and experimental physics, followed by an MSc on atomic recombination in the upper atmosphere. His supervisor was the prominent physicist, Sir Harrie Massey, a former research student of Nobel Laureate Sir Ernest Rutherford. Massie moved to University College, London in 1939, and Bates followed him there to study for a PhD, but the war intervened. Bates (and Massey) went to work at the Admiralty Research Laboratory at Teddington, where their main task was to develop countermeasures to magnetic mines. He later moved to the Mine Design Department where he was chairman of the mechanical engineering research committee. In Peter Wright's controversial book Spycatcher Bates was described as one of the unsung heroes of the war.

After the war, Bates was back at UCL as a lecturer, first in applied mathematics and later in physics. Again working with Massey in studies of the ionosphere, Bates developed a new discipline - aeronomy - and invented the new process of dissociative recombination, which came to be recognised as the major electron removal process in all low-temperature plasmas. This process he based on what a Harvard University Professor of Astronomy called "a brilliant insight made after long consideration". During his years at UCL, Bates also had spells at Pasadena, at Princeton (where he published a noted paper on dissociative recombination in 1950), and was Consultant at the US Naval Ordnance Station, Injokern, California, 1951. Also in 1951 he was awarded a DSc, was promoted Reader at UCL, and returned to Queen's University, Belfast as Professor and Head of Department of Applied Mathematics, which he remained for the rest of his career. He developed what was on his appointment a small department into an internationally-renowned school of theoretical atomic and molecular physics, he himself becoming a dominant figure in the field. His many distinguished graduate students and post-doctoral fellows all made their mark; many came to occupy senior positions in Universities in North America and Europe. For example, one became science adviser to President Clinton, while another remained at Queen's University and became Professor of Computer Science, in a department which Bates persuaded the University to create; this was supported by the Office of Scientific research of the US Air Force, who were most interested in Bates' work.

This work was extremely wide-ranging, His basic work in theoretical atomic physics was stimulated by his intense interest in the application of these theoretical rates to the understanding of, for example, the earth's upper atmosphere, stellar atmospheres and the interstellar medium and laboratory plasmas. His early work on the chemistry of the upper atmosphere formed the foundation for the modern international studies of the depletion of the ozone layer and the effects of carbon dioxide on global warming. His work was also put to great practical use in the modelling and understanding of large fusion plasmas such as JET (the Joint European Torus) which were developed to produce a cheap source of energy.

Bates became Professor of Theoretical Physics 1968-74, Research Professor 1976-82 (Emeritus) at Queen's University and was Visiting Scholar in Atmospheric Sciences, Harvard University 1982-83. During his long and distinguished career, in which he published a total of 337 articles in the most distinguished journals and publications, Bates was awarded many honours: he was a Vice-President of the Royal Irish Academy, a Fellow of the Royal Society and in 1978 he was knighted for his services to science. Always concerned as well with the more down-to-earth, Bates had distinct socialist views and was a founder member and sometime Vice-President of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland.

Bates received important medals from the national and international science community. These included the Hughes Medal of the Royal Society, the Cree Medal of the Institute of Physics, the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Fleming Medal of the American Geophysical Union. In 1992 the European Geophysical Society honoured him by establishing a new award - the Sir David Bates Medal - in recognition of his scientific achievements. The Institute of Physics awards the David Bates Prize, for distinguished achievement in atomic, molecular, optical and plasma physics

Other distinctions included being a member of the International Academy of Astronautics; a senior member of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science; an honorary foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; an associate member of the Belgian Académie Royale des Sciences, des Lettres et des Beaux Arts; and a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences in the USA. He also received honorary degrees from nine universities, including Queen's University, Belfast; the New University of Ulster; the National University of Ireland and the Universities of Dublin, Glasgow, and both York (Ontario) and York (UK).

The Mathematics Building at Queens University, Belfast, was named after him; demolished to make way for the new Library, it was replaced by a new building with the same name located close by. His portrait by Basil Blackshaw hangs in the Great Hall at Queen's University, Belfast.

Born: 18 November 1916
Died: 5 January 1994
Richard Froggatt

Wesley McCann