Atkinson, Robert d'Escourt, 1898-1982

Alternative names
Birth 1898-04-11
Death 1982-10-28

Biographical notes:

Astronomer (fundamental astronomy, celestial mechanics, relativity). On the physics faculty at Rutgers University, 1929-1937; on the staff of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, 1937-1964; and on the astronomy faculty at University of Indiana, Bloomington from 1964.

From the description of Selected correspondence [microform], 1927-1955. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 80709772

Visiting Professor, Indiana University Department of Astronomy.

Astronomer and astrophysicist best known for his pioneering work on atomic synthesis in stellar interiors.

From the description of Robert d'Escourt Atkinson papers, 1893-1981. (Indiana University). WorldCat record id: 43603955

Robert d'Escourt Atkinson, astronomer, physicist, and inventor, was known around the world for his work in general physics, atomic synthesis and stellar energy, precision astrometry and fundamental astronomy, instrumentation, and relativity.

Atkinson was born in Wales on April 11, 1898. He graduated from Hertford College in 1922 with 1st class honors in Physics. He remained at Hertford to earn his M.A. and to work as a research fellow in the Clarendon Laboratory. Atkinson earned his Ph.D. in Physics with minors in Mathematics and Astronomy in 1928 after studying at the University of Gottingen in Germany as a Rockefeller Traveling Fellow. After teaching physics at the Berlin Technische Hochscule for a year, he was appointed Assistant Professor of Physics at Rutgers University. He remained there until returning to England in 1937 as Chief Assistant at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. He was called away from this position to do "degaussing" - anti-magnetic mine work - during WWII. In 1944, Atkinson was lent out to the Ballistic Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., where he worked under famed astronomer Edwin Hubble. He stayed there for two years and then returned to Greenwich, where a large amount of his remaining years at the Royal Observatory were spent overseeing the move of the entire Observatory to Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex. He retired from the Observatory in 1964 and came to Indiana University as a visiting professor. In 1973 he became an adjunct professor and professor emeritus in 1979.

Atkinson originated many now well-known ideas in astronomy. He was the first to develop a quantitative formula for the rate of nuclear reactions in stars; he originated a new and very precise method for obtaining the moon's place with reference to the sun's. Also an inventor, he was the originator of the "Mirror Transit Circle," and designer of an axis and mirror-mounting for it. He was also the designer and maker of the Astronomical Clock for the York Minister Cathedral. These name but a few of his inventions. One of his inventions can be found on the Indiana University campus. At the south entrance of Assembly Hall stands a sundial he was commissioned to create by the Indiana University Foundation. This sundial is unique in that it allows observers to 'correct' the sun's unpunctuality by rotating the sundial around its tilted axis as needed.

Throughout his life, Atkinson received many honors for his work. He received the Eddington Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society in 1960 for his 1931 joint paper on atomic synthesis and stellar energy, now known as pioneering work in this field. In 1977, a minor planet was named for him ("Asteroid Atkinson", "1827 Atkinson", or "Minor Planet Atkinson") by the International Astronomical Union. The University of Goettingen bestowed a rare honor upon Atkinson in 1978 - a formal diploma that officially "renewed" his doctorate, 50 years after receiving his first. It was given in recognition of his work on atomic synthesis in stellar interiors.

Also involved in professional associations, Atkinson was a founder-member of the Royal Institute of Navigation and served as president of the British Astronomical Association for one year.

Atkinson passed away in Bloomington on October 28, 1982.

From the guide to the Robert d'Escourt Atkinson papers, 1893-1981, (Indiana University Office of University Archives and Records Management


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  • Spectrum analysis
  • World War, 1939-1945--Science
  • Astrophysicists--Correspondence
  • Relativity (Physics)
  • Astrophysicists--Archives
  • Quantum theory
  • Degaussing--Research
  • Astrometry--Research
  • World politics--1945-
  • Solar eclipses
  • Astronomy teachers--Biography
  • World War, 1914-1918
  • Astrophysicists--Biography
  • Astronomy teachers--Archives
  • Astronomical observatories
  • Astrophysics
  • General relativity (Physics)
  • Astronomy teachers--Correspondence
  • Astronomy
  • Astronomical observatories--Administration
  • Stars--Masses--Research
  • Ballistics
  • Ballistics--Research
  • Degaussing
  • Stars--Structure
  • Astrophysics--Study and teaching (Higher)


  • Astronomers


  • Indiana--Bloomington (as recorded)
  • Solar system (as recorded)