Farewell to the Doc

Andy BreenAndy Breen, son of Sunderland, solar physicist, gentleman and scholar, is no more. As a doctoral student in Aberystwyth back in the early 1990s, I shared an office with this destroyer of computer keyboards and possessor of acid wit: a man who at the same time was gentle as a lamb, and avoided the bitchy office politics so common in academia.

Andy, known to his friends and probably also to his mum as “Doc”, was an expert on the Sun’s outer atmosphere, which he studied by observing signal fluctuations in astronomical radio sources as the latter pass behind our local star. Interplanetary scintillation is cheap and cheerful space science, and Andy was an absolute master of the data.

When I first worked with Andy, he was a postdoc in the group led by my PhD supervisor, the late great Phil Williams. Andy was a prolific researcher, and as a result relatively secure in his funding at a time when the upper atmosphere and space physics community in the UK took a hammering, with much of the research output, my own included, mediocre and uninspiring. In contrast, Andy’s work was original and illuminating, and he eventually became a lecturer in Aberystwyth.

Academic success and security were deservedly his, but, beyond the “Doctor” title which he wore with pride, Andy was not interested in professional status. As a postdoc Andy taught with passion and patience, and as a lecturer I understand that he did exactly the same. And to the end he continued crunching his precious data.

Andy’s other interests included sailing, trains, and squeezing as much as he possibly could from the lively cultural milieu of mid-Wales. We were never close (Andy was a private man who tended not to socialise with colleagues), but my memories of him are fond, and I can say with absolute certainty that he was loved.

RIP Dr Andy Breen FRAS (1964-2011)