Professor David Axon was a distinguished astrophysicist and Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex. His main research was in the field of active galaxies and the evolution and structure of galactic nuclei.
David’s research career began at the University of Durham where he was both an undergraduate (-1972) and postgraduate student (-1977). Following his PhD, David moved to the University of Sussex as a postdoctoral researcher (1976-1979), when the Royal Greenwich Observatory was based at Herstmonceux Castle, and then to Cambridge University (1979-1981). His first lectureship (1983) was at the Nuffield Radio Astronomy Laboratory (later Jodrell Bank Observatory), part of the University of Manchester where he maintained a position until 1999. During this period (1993-1998) he was an ESA scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. He subsequently become chair of the department of Physics at the University of Hertfordshire (1999-2002) and helped supervise a dramatic expansion of astronomy. He followed this as head of the Physics Department at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT, 2002-2008) in New York State, finally returning to Sussex in September 2009 to head the new School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences.
David’s many scientific achievements include the discovery of the first galactic superwind, in the Cigar Galaxy (Messier 82, M82, recent picture right), the first discovery of a BL Lac object in X-rays, the discovery of strong magnetic fields in the jets of young stellar objects and concluding the presence of a supermassive black hole in the galaxy M87. He was also one of the few astronomers to use the new technique of electronography before it was overtaken by the development of CCDs.
David’s enthusiasm for astrophysics was boundless. I remember as a young PhD student meeting him at the observatory in La Palma and being enthused by his expositions as one of a group of “Lovers of Active Galaxies (LAGs)”. His enthusiasm had not dampened and recently I’ve witnessed him inspire a whole new research project following a local presentation by one of our research students.
David has led the school at Sussex with great success and has been a friendly and much admired face in the school and he will be sorely missed by all. He died on 5th April 2012 of an apparent heart attack while visiting RIT, in the USA, where he maintained a research professorship. He is survived by his wife Lynne.
Seb Oliver (with thanks to Robert Smith and Dorothy Lamb) 11 April 2012