Martin Ryle

Martin Ryle

Sir Martin Ryle
Born (1918-09-27)27 September 1918
Brighton, England
Died 14 October 1984(1984-10-14) (aged 66)
Cambridge, England
Nationality United Kingdom
Fields Astronomy
Doctoral advisor J. A. Ratcliffe
Known for Radio astronomy
Notable awards Hughes Medal (1954)
RAS Gold Medal (1964)
Henry Draper Medal (1965)
Faraday Medal (1971)
Royal Medal (1973)
Bruce Medal (1974)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1974)

Sir Martin Ryle FRS[1] (27 September 1918 – 14 October 1984) was an English radio astronomer who developed revolutionary radio telescope systems (see e.g. aperture synthesis) and used them for accurate location and imaging of weak radio sources. In 1946 Ryle and Vonberg were the first people to publish interferometric astronomical measurements at radio wavelengths, Joseph Pawsey from the University of Sydney claimed to have actually made interferometric measurements earlier in the same year. With improved equipment, Ryle observed the most distant known galaxies in the universe at that time. He was the first Professor of Radio Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, and founding director of the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory. He was Astronomer Royal from 1972 to 1982.

Ryle and Antony Hewish shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1974, the first Nobel prize awarded in recognition of astronomical research.


  • Biography 1
  • Astronomy 2
  • Honours and awards 3
    • Lectures 3.1
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Martin Ryle was born in Brighton, the son of Professor John Alfred Ryle and Miriam (née Scully) Ryle. He was the nephew of Oxford University Professor of Philosophy Gilbert Ryle.

After studying at Bradfield College, Ryle earned a physics degree at the University of Oxford. In 1939, Ryle worked with the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) on the design of antennas for airborne radar equipment during World War II. After the war he received a fellowship at the Cavendish Laboratory.

The focus of Ryle's early work in Cambridge was on radio waves from the Sun. His interest quickly shifted to other areas, however, and he decided early on that the Cambridge group should develop new observing techniques. As a result, Ryle was the driving force in the creation and improvement of astronomical interferometry and aperture synthesis, which paved the way for massive upgrades in the quality of radio astronomical data. In 1946 Ryle built the first multi-element astronomical radio interferometer.

Ryle guided the Cambridge radio astronomy group in the production of several important radio source catalogues. One such catalogue, the Third Cambridge Catalogue of Radio Sources (3C) in 1959 helped lead to the discovery of the first quasi-stellar object (quasar).

While serving as university lecturer in physics at Cambridge from 1948 to 1959, Ryle became director of the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory in 1957 and professor of radio astronomy in 1959. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1952,[1] was knighted in 1966, and succeeded Sir Richard Woolley as Astronomer Royal from 1972–1982. Ryle and Antony Hewish shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1974, the first Nobel prize awarded in recognition of astronomical research. In 1968 Ryle served as professor of astronomy at Gresham College, London.

Ryle died on 14 October 1984, in Cambridge. He had married Rowena Palmer in 1947.


Ryle was sometimes considered difficult to work with – he often worked in an office at the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory to avoid disturbances from other members of the Cavendish Laboratory and to avoid getting into heated arguments, as Ryle had a hot temper. Ryle worried that Cambridge would lose its standing in the radio astronomy community as other radio astronomy groups had much better funding, so he encouraged a certain amount of secrecy about his aperture synthesis methods in order to keep an advantage for the Cambridge group.

Ryle had heated arguments with Fred Hoyle of the Institute of Astronomy about Hoyle's Steady State Universe, which restricted collaboration between the Cavendish Radio Astronomy Group and the Institute of Astronomy during the 1960s.

Ryle authored two short books on nuclear proliferation ('Politics of Nuclear Disarmament') where he argued that the only way to save the planet Earth from complete nuclear annihilation was to ban the use of any nuclear devices indefinitely.

Ryle was an amateur radio operator[2] and held the GB-Callsign G3CY.

Honours and awards


In 1965 Ryle was invited to co-deliver the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture on Exploration of the Universe.

See also


  1. ^ a b  
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Winners of the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society". Royal Astronomical Society. Retrieved 24 February 2011. 
  4. ^ "Henry Draper Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 24 February 2011. 
  5. ^ "Franklin Laureate Database – Albert A. Michelson Medal Laureates".  
  6. ^ "Past Winners of the Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal". Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Retrieved 24 February 2011. 

External links