Thursday, 7 January 2021

RIP Bill Rae

The sad new of Bill Rae's death has been brought to my attention by my colleague and friend Wilton Catford.  Wilton knew Bill considerably better than I did, and he (Wilton) has kindly let me share the following obituary of him:

Some of you working in the same research area as me will have heard of Bill Rae and maybe even have known him. Bill was a friend of mine and one of the most gifted nuclear physicists that I have met. We've just heard via a mutual friend Dick Hunt that Bill has passed away, so I'd like to pass that information along. 


Bill was born in 1951 in Scotland and was very Scottish. From 1976 to 1978 he initiated and wrote OXBASH, deliberately designed as a shell model code that could be accessed and used by experimenters. It remained one of the most powerful codes in the field until Bill completely rewrote it in 2005, calling it Nushell. 


In 2006, he wrote a different programme that used new innovations in matrix multiplication to hugely extend the capability - this was called Nushellx and remains one of the world leaders. During the 80s and 90s, Bill became a Fellow of both Trinity College Oxford and St Cross College Oxford. Bill was forced to retire at age 50 in 2000 due to the debilitative effects of Parkinson's Disease, which eventually stopped him programming at his home in Garsington (just outside of Oxford) in 2009 but which he fought off for nearly 30 years. Amongst other things, he subsequently invented his own walking stick (cane) with a laser (of illegal power, bought through eBay to his great amusement) that allowed him to walk in a straight line by following the red dot on the ground. 


Bill is best known for the shell model work, but he also began a renaissance in alpha-clustering work both experimentally and theoretically. He wrote a new code in the 1990s to use the Brink model and extensively published new results, and he personally designed with Dick Hunt the electronics for the world's leading (at the time) multichannel data acquisition system for silicon strip detectors which underpinned the cutting-edge work of the Charissa collaboration (which he founded) in the UK and at laboratories in France, the USA and Australia. 


At times taciturn, his sense of humour was as rapier sharp as his scientific brilliance and he was a pleasure and an inspiration to work with. Vale, William Dickson Mudie Rae.


W D M Rae in 2007, courtesy B A Brown


1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for the blog, Paul. Being a regular user of OXBASH, I am deeply saddened by the news. It has always been the mental picture of Prof. Alex Brown that comes to mind while opening OXBASH. To be honest, I didn't know about Prof. Rae as much as I do about Prof. Brown. But after reading this obituary and seeing his picture now, I will always remember him fondly while using OXBASH and NushellX. Thank you Prof. Rae for everything. Rest in Peace. Om Shanti!

    Yajnya Sapkota