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Edward George "Taffy" Bowen blue plaque

Scientist, pioneer of radar

Edward Bowen blue plaque
14 January 1911 - 12 August 1991

It was during the war years and his subsequent career in America and Australia that Edward George Bowen became known as 'Taffy' - often because he was the lone Welshman working amongst a host of other nationalities. Throughout his life he remained an ardent Welshman and, in his 47 years in Australia, relished in the name of 'Taffy', both professionally and socially.

As a scientist, Taffy Bowen will be remembered primarily for four things:

1. His wartime contribution to the early development of radar in both the UK and USA; particularly airborne radar and its applications in air to surface detection of ships and submarines (ASV), and air interception (AI).  Radar has been called 'The invention that changed the world' (because it gave birth to so many subsequent developments). The significance of his radar work was recognised early-on, and was justifiably rewarded with an OBE (1941), the Medal of Freedom USA (1947) and the Royal Commission Award to Inventors in the UK (1951).

2. His Australian colleagues remember him for the transformation of a wartime programme of military radar into the remarkable scope of post-war research that he headed as Chief of the Radiophysics Division of CSIRO. These programs, which included his enduring personal interest in cloud physics, artificial rainmaking, and the causes of natural variability in rainfall, were undertaken in the stimulating environment that he fostered at the radiophysics laboratory.

3. During the late fifties, Taffy oversaw and drove the design, funding and construction of the 210ft (64m) radio telescope at Parkes NSW. Taffy was able to use his high-level contacts in the USA to secure seed-funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and Carnegie Corporation, without which an initially sceptical Australian government might not have come to the party. The Parkes telescope contained a number of important innovations that gave it superlative performance and prompted Taffy's recognition by NASA 'for his pioneering efforts in advancement of technology for very large steerable telescope antennas ....'. In 1962, Taffy was awarded a CBE in recognition of his contributions to the development of science in Australia, and served as Vice President of the Australian Academy of Science.

4. The other major engineering achievement that owes much to Taffy's drive and enthusiasm is the optical Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) at Siding Springs in NSW. He was a member of the initial Joint Policy Committee and then chaired the AAT Board which guided the project through the complex years when the design was evolving and had to overcome seemingly impossible hurdles to do with the eventual management and operation of the finished telescope. When operations commenced in 1975, the telescope was regarded as a technological tour de force. According to Sir Fred Hoyle, 'there is no doubt that a large share of the credit must go to Taffy Bowen'. In this year, Taffy was belatedly elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

For a man so physically active and mentally curious, the stroke he suffered in late 1987 was particularly devastating. He only partially recovered from the initial episode and later suffered a further series of debilitating strokes which led to his gradual decline and death, in August 1991, at the age of 80.

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Last modified on 09 November 2021