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Sussex mourns death of David Axon

Prof David Axon

Staff and students have reacted with sadness and shock to the sudden death of the Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

Professor David Axon died on 5 April – apparently of a heart attack - during a trip to America.

He was visiting the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York State, where he had previously headed the physics department and where he continued to hold the position of research professor.

Professor Axon had been Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at Sussex since its creation in September 2009. He had previously held a postdoctoral position in the University’s Astronomy Centre from 1976-79.

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Farthing, described the news of Professor Axon’s death as “truly devastating”.

He said: “David was a giant in every sense of the word. He brought to Sussex his outstanding leadership skills, bringing together two departments to create one of the strongest schools of its kind in the country.”

Professor Philip Harris, head of the Physics and Astronomy department, added: “David achieved a huge amount for us over the short period that he was with us. He has left us much stronger as a department than we could ever have imagined we would be at the time when he arrived. He will be sorely missed.”

Professor Axon’s main research was in the field of active galaxies and the evolution and structure of galactic nuclei.

Seb Oliver, Professor of Astrophysics, said: “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.”

Support is being provided to staff and students in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

Professor Andrew Liddle, who was Deputy of Head of School, has taken up the position of Acting Head of School. Meanwhile, the University has started the recruitment process for Professor Axon’s replacement.

  • The Astronomy Centre have published a full obituary of Professor Axon and the Physics and Astronomy department has set up a condolences page.

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Posted on behalf of: University of Sussex
Last updated: Tuesday, 17 April 2012


Staff in CCE and the ISS would like to offer our condolences to David's wife and family. He was a great colleague and particularly supported us in expanding the International Summer Schoool. His death is a huge loss to the university and to all who knew him.

From Pamela Coare on 12 April 2012
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