Remembering Cecil “Jake” Waddington, 1929-2020

Emeritus Professor Jake Waddington of the School of Physics and Astronomy passed away on October 1, 2020. He was 91 years old. Jake was born on July 6, 1929 in Cambridge, England. He attended Summerhill, a famous progressive school, graduating in 1947. Jake earned his B.Sc in 1952 and doctorate in 1956.  His thesis was on the use of nuclear emulsions to study cosmic rays, under the guidance of C.F. Powell and Peter Fowler. His wife, Jean earned her B.Sc in 1956 and they married that same year after he was awarded A Royal Society McKinnon scholarship.

In 1957 Jake was invited to University of Minnesota as a research assistant as part of the International Geophysical Year.  He joined a strong group of space physicists including Ed Ney, Phyllis Freier, Jack Winckler and Paul Kellogg. During this period he began a long and fruitful collaboration with Professor Phyllis Freier that continued after Jake spent a year back in Bristol and  six months at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Washington. During his time at Goddard, then department head Al Nier, offered him a job. Jake returned to Minnesota in 1962 as an Associate Professor and was promoted to full Prof in 1968.  He continued working on cosmic ray research, mostly based on balloon flights from Fort Churchill, Canada, Texas, and India. He also began a research program to look for gamma ray sources, using spark chambers and electronic counters flown in balloons.

In 1972, Jake returned to England for a sabbatical year at Imperial College London, where he studied heavy cosmic ray nuclei. By this time Jake had honed his computer skills in Minnesota to the point that he was encouraged to spend as much time as possible on the University of London computer in order to establish a priority for the Imperial College physics dept, which was lacking in computer literacy. Upon returning to Minnesota, he began working on a detector to be flown on NASA’s High Energy Astronomical Observation satellite (HEAO). There were several generations of this detector through the 1970s. Jake became one of the world’s leading experts in fragmentation of relativistic heavy nuclei as a result of his work on this program.

In 1980 Jake received a medal for Excellent Scientific Achievement from NASA for his service to the HEAO program and continued to work as a consultant to NASA off and on during the following decade. He took a single quarter leave in 1990 to select a site in Australia for a future detector to be built there for ultra heavy cosmic ray nuclei. Since his retirement, he had remained active in research, including balloon-borne experiments in the Antarctic. Over the years Jake published over 190 scientific papers and helped guide many graduate students through the program at the University. Perhaps owing to his slightly unorthodox education at Summerhill, Jake adopted a teaching style which encouraged a hands-on approach to learning and was more reflective of the real world of physics. For example, students were expected to read current journal articles and present the information to the class, something that wasn’t typical at the time. This was sometimes controversial, but its effectiveness was evidenced by several absolutely glowing letters from students sent to various department heads over the years. Jake was particularly  pleased that he had successfully nurtured so many women graduate students  to careers in physics.

Jake was a dedicated sailor and held the title of “Commodore” at the Calhoun Yacht Club. He and his wife Jean, who survives him, gave an annual Christmas eve party for the faculty of the School which are remembered fondly by those who attended.