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Obituary: Douglas Brewer (1925-2018)

Professor Douglas Brewer

Douglas Forbes Brewer, Professor of Experimental Physics, died on 16 July aged 93.

Douglas came to Sussex in 1962, initially as a Senior Lecturer having left his post at the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford. He joined the other founding members of Physics at Sussex - Roger Blin Stoyle and Ken Smith - setting up a flourishing subject group within the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

Douglas' expertise was in Low Temperature Physics and in particular the properties of liquid helium, both helium 4 and the rarer helium 3. These substances are of extreme interest to physicists because, in their liquid form attainable at temperatures close to absolute zero, they are materials which have to be interpreted using Quantum Statistics.

Throughout his career, Douglas' experimental work was instrumental in developing a better understanding of these quantum liquids. His working group at Sussex achieved national and international recognition.

In 1965, Douglas organised a symposium at Sussex on quantum fluids attended by a glittering array of physicists including no less than five current or future Nobel Prize winners. Tony Leggett has to be singled out because he came to Sussex in 1967 as a lecturer, attracted by Douglas' reputation, and he carried out most of his important work there accounting for the superfluidity of helium 3. This work led to the award of his Nobel Prize in 2003.

Douglas went on to chair the 19th International Low Temperature Physics Conference in Brighton in 1989. Again, this involved an immense amount of work and its success reflected Douglas’ energy and organisational skills. In addition, for several years he was Editor of the journal Progress in Low Temperature Physics. In 1999, Douglas was delighted to be awarded the Fritz London Memorial Prize, the most prestigious award in low temperature physics.

Douglas was born in Cardiff and valued his Welsh roots. After winning a scholarship to the Crypt Grammar School in Gloucester, he went up to Pembroke College in Oxford to read Natural Philosophy. The Second World War interrupted his studies, but he completed his BA after the war and he later obtained his DPhil degree at the Clarendon Laboratory, working on liquid helium 4.

He was a talented sportsman, having played in the university second rugby fifteen and rowed for Pembroke. Indeed, he was told by his coach that he could be a future Olympian if he dedicated himself to rowing. Douglas chose Physics instead.

Douglas was an extremely cultured man. He appreciated the beauty of language and was well read in Shakespeare. He had the ability to illustrate his writings with Latin prose. His house near Lewes was frequently filled with eminent academic colleagues visiting from the United States, China, and Russia.

In July 2016, a 90th birthday party was held for Douglas at the University. This was attended by some 80 guests including many of his former research students, colleagues and friends. The event showed the esteem and respect in which he was held.

He will be missed by all, particularly by his children - Jonathan, Charlotte, Mark, Sophy and Lucy - and by Wendy, his devoted wife for the last 30 years. His first wife Jean sadly died young in 1987.

Jonathan Brewer, Colin Finn and Peter Ford

By: Sean Armstrong
Last updated: Friday, 21 September 2018