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David Watson memorial pics

AT CEREMONY: (left to right) Marion Watson, Professor Alan Wells, and Vice-Chancellor Professor Robert Burgess.

'Unprecedented Tribute' to be Paid to University of Leicester Scientist

Plaque to be carried on spacecraft is a memorial tribute to David Watson.

A tribute, described as ‘unprecedented’, will be flown into space by NASA next month (October) in memory of a University of Leicester engineer who dedicated 40 years of his life to space research at this University.

At a memorial event on September 27 at the University’s Space Research Centre, colleagues and family gathered to celebrate the life and achievements of David Watson, a Principal Experimental Officer at the Centre.

The celebration, attended by David’s wife, Marion, and his parents was also marked by the David Watson Memorial Lecture delivered by Dr David Burrows, from Pennsylvania State University, telling the story how the SWIFT Mission was built.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Robert Burgess unveiled a plaque at the Space Research Centre – a duplicate of the very one that will be flown on the Swift mission. It reads:

In Memoriam DAVID JOHN WATSON 1943-2003 Friend and Colleague, Who touched this instrument and our lives with his gentle and thoughtful attention.

Professor Burgess said: “Colleagues in Physics felt strongly that it was appropriate to have a permanent reminder of the contribution David Watson made to physics and to the University. It is a great testimony to David’s work that the Swift mission will carry a plaque in his memory – this is a great achievement and it demonstrates how significantly David’s work is regarded not only here at the University but internationally as well.”

Professor Alan Wells, Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow at the University, said: “NASA’s SWIFT Observatory, to study the origins of gamma-ray bursts, is less than a month away from its expected launch into space. This mission is the latest in a long line of space projects that carries a scientific instrument in which scientists and engineers from the University of Leicester have been centrally involved; in this case, the X-ray telescope. Foremost among the contributors to the design and development of the SWIFT X-ray telescope, a joint project with Penn State University and the Osservatorio Astronomica di Brera in Milan, has been that of the X-ray telescope System Engineer, David Watson.

“Sadly, David has not lived to see the fruits of his contributions to this exciting project. Having spent much of the previous year working at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, preparing the X-ray telescope for its installation on the SWIFT spacecraft, he passed away suddenly, shortly after his return to Leicester, on September 7, 2003.

“Such is the esteem in which David’s contributions to SWIFT are held, within NASA and among the international SWIFT partners, that NASA has taken the unprecedented step of allowing a tribute to David's contributions to SWIFT to be carried on the spacecraft when it is launched into space on 26 October. This tribute takes the form of a plaque which is mounted on the X-ray telescope that David, together with his colleagues at Leicester, Penn State University and Brera, have created. A duplicate of this plaque has been presented to the Space Research Centre as a further appreciation of his work.”

Professor Wells said the occasion also provided colleagues with an opportunity to express directly to David’s family their appreciation of everything that he had done for the University and the Department of Physics & Astronomy during his 40 years.

“David was conscientious, meticulous, inventive and utterly reliable. He employed all these qualities in many valuable and original contributions to our space research programme at the University of Leicester over four decades.

“David became an expert in all aspects of rocket technology and as such helped and guided many young post-graduate students, and academics, in the arts and technologies of the subject. Several of David’s working colleagues have gone on to enjoy distinguished careers in University research, in teaching, in engineering and, in one case, as a NASA astronaut.”

“We miss him but his legacy remains with us,” said Professor Wells.

David’s wife, Marion, said: “I think the dedication of a memorial plaque to David in the Space Research Centre is a great honour and I am sure David would have appreciated very much the fact that the University had honoured his memory in this way.

"The NASA SWIFT mission is a project with which David was closely involved and about which he was very keen. He devoted every effort in helping to ensure its success.

"David came to the University straight from school and very much enjoyed all his working life in the Department of Physics & Astronomy and the opportunities he had to work abroad in many different countries on a variety of projects.

"I am sure David would also have appreciated very much all that his friends and colleagues in the Space Research Centre had done in his memory.”

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