RIP Henry Rishbeth (1931-2010)

Henry Rishbeth (1931-2010)

It is with sadness that I report the death yesterday of my former boss and mentor Henry Rishbeth, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Southampton. Henry was a pioneer in the field of ionospheric physics, and held in great esteem by the UK and wider space science communities.

I first met Henry when I was a PhD student at the University of Wales at Aberystwyth. Following my doctoral studies Henry employed me for three years as a research fellow specialising in the micro-physics of the aurora.

Our personal research interests only partially overlapped, and we collaborated relatively little during my postdoc years. However, I assisted Henry with some of his undergraduate teaching, and worked closely with him on a study into ionospheric climatology.

Henry could be a difficult old bugger, but it was impossible not to like as well as respect this very English scientist, tea drinker and railway aficionado. I have some very fond memories of Henry Rishbeth, and like many will miss him greatly.


On 28 August 2010 I received the following from John Harris, who offered the text for publication…

Henry and I were at were at school together in Cambridge from the age of
about four till eighteen! First Nursery School and then Perse School.

He was always the brightest in the class, consistently winning prizes. I
remember we had a teacher for maths (not a mathematician at all – these were
the war years) who, at the end of a test, would ask: “Rishbeth, what is the
maximum?” i.e., Henry always got all the questions right and the maximum
possible marks.

I guess that in today’s (yesterday’s?) slang he would have been called a
nerd or geek, and surely deeply into computers, etc. Not many interests as
far as one knew outside study and of course railways (His house almost
backed onto the Cambridge-London line). I was surprised to read that he was
evidently a committed christian.

Just before he left school he began to be rather successful as a long
distance runner – cross country I think. And then the tragedy of contracting
polio during national service.

I continued to see him occasionally as an undergraduate, but then, as
happens our paths diverged. I am pleased to know how much he achieved and
the respect he earned.

John Harris