Obituary: David Bailin

Posted on behalf of: Physics and Astronomy

Apologies. Broadcast images pre 2021 do not have alt-text

Emeritus Professor of Theoretical Physics, David Bailin, has died aged 79.

From 1965 he spent 38 years working at the University, at various times Chair of Physics and Astronomy and President of the Sussex branch of the Association of University Teachers (now the University and College Union, or UCU).    

David’s early research was on the weak interactions - the fundamental force behind certain kinds of radioactivity. He showed that the experimental data at the time required the existence of a heavy W boson. The W boson was discovered 20 years later, with a mass 85 times that of the proton.

His best-known work - written with his long-term collaborator Alex Love - was on superconductivity and superfluidity in relativistic fermion systems, inspired by his former Sussex colleague Tony Leggett’s Nobel prize-winning work on superfluid Helium-3. It was ahead of its time, gaining no citations for the first few years, until its importance for neutron stars was understood.

As Chair of Physics and Astronomy, David helped to regenerate the department and was instrumental in attracting Ed Hinds from Yale - leading to the establishment of new research directions in atomic, molecular and optical physics.

After retiring in 2003, he produced three influential advanced textbooks, also with Alex Love, covering quantum field theory, string theory and cosmology. The books are elegant, economical and thorough.

In his later years he continued as Emeritus Professor in the Theoretical Particle Physics research group, inspiring with his deep knowledge and acute insights, as well as his warmth, wisdom and kindness.

He continued to do the work he loved - research on string theory, serving on the editorial board of Contemporary Physics, and co-editing the online history of Physics and Astronomy - right until the end.

A commemoration of David’s life at Sussex is being planned.

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