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Dr. R.G.T (Bob) Bennett 1930-2020

Bob Bennett passed away on Wednesday 16th September in Auckland just after his 90th birthday(7th September). Bob was an undergraduate in the then Department of  Physics and Astronomy( now the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences) 1948-51 and completed his Masters (1953)and Doctorate (1959) both at UC and had been on the staff since 1965. Bob retired in 1996 but was a regular visitor to the old Rutherford Building(West) for some years.

Jack Baggaley remembers Bob

When I arrived in Christchurch from London in February 1967 Bob
was the one who met me at the airport. He drove us out to the Rolleston Research Station. There, apart from a tour of the radar and antennas, he introduced me to Kiwi ways: amongst other advice – not to nibble the nearby grass (because of the possible hepatitis), and if I used a bicycle it was not the correct thing to tuck one’s long trousers into your socks (as in the UK) – but “in New Zealand we always use proper bicycle clips”.
Later I learned that this apparent rather officious manner
was certainly not at all typical of Bob but over the years I have endeavoured to follow that guidance.

arial picture of radars in open field.
The original Ellyett and Gregory field station near Rolleston. Both radars were later moved to Birdlings Flat.


He had a deep knowledge of many branches of science and he had this ability to manipulate in his head multiple variables and navigate to a conclusion. Although the age of the desktop computer had arrived – in his office on the 8th floor of the old Rutherford Building he could often manage with only his favourite well-worn slide rule. In the same room (and the electronics workshop) he would be found with soldering iron in hand producing some new wizardry of a circuit.
Bob had an important role (advising on bell tuning etc.) in keeping the Christchurch Cathedral bells in working order. As such he was a regular bell-ringer. When on Sabbatical Leave in the UK  Rutherford-Appleton Lab) – instead of, for example, meeting folk of the local community in the pub – he would seek out the bell ringing group of the area. On some occasions at UC travelling to the research site at Birdlings Flat and with me driving, Bob would sometimes be peering at a small notebook and glancing at him I would see his lips were moving: when I enquired about this (reading a poem Bob?) mannerism – he explained that he was committing to memory some bell-ringing sequence.
I am very grateful to Bob for his wisdom and his amazing knowledge of many aspects over a wide field of science and, as a colleague, his valuable guidance in our research. We in the Department enjoyed Bob’s many intriguing often funny accounts:  Bob had a gift for story- telling and his stories are legendry. He was very kind – he could be analytically critical but I never heard him utter an unkind word
of anyone or complain about anything. Bob was a cherished colleague of mine for more than half a century.
A Christchurch remembrance function for Bob is
planned for early 2021.

Remembering Bob – Grahame Fraser

Bob had the uncanny ability to recognise the basic physics in the various devices he encountered, such as church bells, electronic circuits or radio aerials.  Aerials ranged from the early improved Yagi-Uda arrays at the Rolleston field station to the unconventional diagonal geometry of the Birdlings Flat array for the stratosphere-troposphere radar.  The ST array had the predicted radiation pattern with a minimum of spurious side-lobes when calibrated against radio-astronomical sources.

John Campbell’s memories of Bob

I was very sorry to hear of Bob’s death, though it wasn’t unexpected. He was a good man. Robert Graham Temple Bennett was a Canterbury Student. He was an undergraduate 1948-51, handed in his MSc(Hons) thesis (On the Measurement of Meteoric Velocities by a Radio Method) in 1953 and his PhD thesis (The Diffraction of Radio Waves from Meteor Trails) in 1958. I first met him when he returned to Canterbury as a staff member. At the end of 1964, whilst waiting for exam results I was building a lamellar grating spectroscope, as one did in those days, for David Bloor as I (hopefully) planned to do a PhD under him on Fourier Transform, far infra-red, spectroscopy. Unfortunately Dave left late in 1964 after receiving a hard-to-turn-down offer from his old university, Queen Mary College in London. Bob arrived for the first term in 1965 and inherited me and a topic outside his field. I was most impressed with his quick grasp of the topic. Due to a letter being sent from England by sea mail (remember those days when it took 6 weeks or two months in transit?) I departed for a PhD scholarship at Queen Mary College within two weeks of its arrival, probably much to Bob’s relief.

image shows Bob Bennett pulling the rope to ring the bell at the Christchurch Cathedral 1980.
As Master of the Bells at Christchurch Cathedral in The Square, Bob rang to mark
the Queen Mother’s 80th Birthday, 4th August 1980.

Following my return to staff late in 1968 Bob became a good friend. To me as a young man physics was as simple as ABC. If I wanted to know anything I would ask Archie (Ross), Bob (Bennett) or Colin (Hooker). In many ways they were to me the last of the department-before-self men, and Bob was the last to go. He was very helpful with his time and knowledge. When I was running third year labs, Bob, who had no association with the lab, would often come in, start chatting with students, help them out of any immediate
difficulties or tell them some titbit from his vast knowledge relevant to their experiment. When I introduced afternoon- tea in the lab for the BSc students, Bob often came down for a chat with them if there wasn’t a special guest. When the BSc students held a graduation dinner, for graduating students, parents and selected staff at a
Greek restaurant, they selected Bob as the after-dinner speaker. It was an hilarious evening. From his arrival Bob joined in with the UC social cricket team which played Lincoln College annually. Bob
also played for the department against chemistry, later retiring to be umpire. These were excellent social occasions and we finished up at one or other staff club after the game. I remember Bob telling me that when he was at England’s Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory that one person brought in a carpet to make his room more cheery. He was told to remove it by the higher-ups because the carpet
was larger than his civil-service ranking allowed.
I also remember Bob telling me of his student days at Canterbury
when the department had only one telephone, in the professor’s
(Chalklin) office. One day there was a call for old Dr Macleod
(UC 1910-51), who was hard of hearing. The professor’s door
opened. “Dr Macleod” was called throughout the three storey building. Silence. “Macleod” thundered to the heavens. Silence. The door slammed shut followed the bellowed “Bugger Macleod”.
He had a great fund of such stories. No doubt some crackers will come to mind as soon as I hand this in. As Master of the Bells at Christchurch Cathedral in The Square, Bob rang to mark the Queen
Mother’s 80th Birthday, 4th August 1980.  I believe he held
several positions over the years at the Cathedral.
I have the happiest of memories of my association with Bob as a very
helpful colleague. Only slightly dampened by our last meeting in
the street some years ago when Alzheimer’s had taken over.
Shortly thereafter, he was shifted to Auckland to be closer to family.

Memories of Bob – Mike Reid

I remember Bob fondly and I particularly appreciated his calm, kind,
and helpful approach to Physics laboratories. I liked his practice of
keeping his hands behind his back when wandering the labs, which
had the benefit of not thoughtlessly messing up something delicate that the students were working on and also reduced the chance of electrocution. As a student in 1948, Bob was in first-year Chemistry laboratories with my mother, and over the years I had many fascinating conversations with him about what University life
was like in the 40s and 50s.

Mexico-New Zealand, New Partners.

UC and Mexico have a long and fruitful history of academic collaborations and interactions.  To celebrate this growing relationship, UC is proud to be hosting The Ambassador of Mexico, Alfredo Pérez Bravo from 17-20th July.

While on campus, Mr Alfredo Rogerio Perez Bravo is giving the lecture: “Mexico-New Zealand, New Partners.

  • When: Monday 20 July at 2-3pm
  • Where: E8

All Staff and Students are welcome.

The School of Physical and Chemical Sciences are holding a research symposium this Saturday (18/07) to showcase the large number of scientific interactions and exchanges between the two countries. All Staff and Students are welcome. Click here for more>

Ambassador Alfredo Pérez Bravo is a Mexican career diplomat with 44 years of experience at the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs . He was promoted to the rank of Ambassador at 33 years of age .
For the last 30 years, he has served as Ambassador of Mexico and  the President of the United Mexican States appointed him Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Mexico to New Zealand in May 2019.

Welcome to UC, Ambassador Pérez Bravo!