In the news: Sir Martin Rees

September 12, 2003

Astronomer royal Sir Martin Rees established his name in the firmament of outspoken UK academics when he became the first scientist to address the Labour Party Conference in Brighton three years ago.

Sir Martin, a lifelong Labour supporter, said he felt that the Labour government had enacted a "real turnaround" in the UK's treatment of science. Some will no doubt see a connection with Sir Martin's new appointment as master of Trinity College, Cambridge. Although the Queen formally makes the appointment, the prime minister makes the nomination.

There is no doubting his credentials however.

Sir Martin, 61, took his BA and PhD in mathematics at Trinity. He is a fellow of King's College, Cambridge, as well as being an honorary fellow of Trinity, a fellow of the Royal Society and holder of the honorary title of astronomer royal. He made his reputation as a cosmologist with his work on high-energy astrophysics, exploring the formation of black holes and the early generation of stars and galaxies.

As master, Sir Martin will take over from Amartya Sen, the economist who was born in what is now Bangladesh and whose work, which concentrated on developing countries, won him a Nobel prize. After just six years in the post, Sen announced that he would return in January 2004 to the position he had held at Harvard University for the 11 years before he went to Cambridge.

The master must reside in the master's lodge, which, the college says, "features a Tudor drawing room, with a gold embossed ceiling and an ornamented fireplace showing the arms of Queen Elizabeth".

Trinity, the largest and richest of the Cambridge colleges, was founded by Henry VIII. It boasts an impressive wine cellar, and it likes to claim that it has produced more Nobel prizewinners than France. The master, who must have a Cambridge degree, holds the position until the age of 70, although the statutes allow for an extension until age 75.

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