Raymond Wilson (physicist)

Raymond Neil Wilson (23 March 1928 – 16 March 2018)[1] was an English physicist and telescope optics designer, best known for pioneering the use of active optics in large telescopes.[2]


Wilson's first degree was in physics from the University of Birmingham, followed by studying engineering at Imperial College London.[3] After completing national service in 1952, he resumed his work on optics.[3] He then worked at Imperial College and at the National Physical Laboratory in the UK.[3] From around 1961, he spent 11 years as Head of the Design Department for telescopes at Carl Zeiss AG in Oberkochen, Germany.[4]

In 1972 he became Head of the Optics and Telescopes Group [4] at the European Southern Observatory (ESO), where he worked for the next 21 years, first in Geneva and then in Garching, Germany. His major contributions have been in telescope optics and technology. In particular, he developed the concept of active optics, which is now the basic principle on which modern large telescopes are constructed. The concept of active optics was developed first in ESO's New Technology Telescope (first light 1988), and then in ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT).[4] (first light 1998).

Wilson retired in 1993, writing a two-volume monograph Reflecting Telescope Optics, a leading work in the field. He also extended the design of large telescopes to the next-generation designs that use three, four, and five mirrors.[4]

Wilson's other interests included history, economics, cosmology and biology.[3]

Awards and honorsEdit

The awards bestowed for his work include the Karl Schwarzschild Medal (1993) and a share of the Kavli Prize (2010),[5] as well as the Tycho Brahe Prize (2010).[4] He has also been made Chevalier of the French Legion of Honour (2003)[6] and has received the Prix Lallemand (2005) from the French Academy of Sciences.[7]

On his retirement in September 1993, the Themistian asteroid 3790 Raywilson was named in his honor. The name was proposed by Lutz Schmadel and endorsed by the Heidelberg Observatory, where the asteroid had been discovered by Karl Reinmuth 56 years earlier.[2]


  1. ^ Dr. Raymond Neil Wilson: Traueranzeige. Donaukurier, accessed 17/3/2018
  2. ^ a b "3790 Raywilson (1937 UE)". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d Ray Wilson section of 2010 Astrophysics Laureate Biographies, Kavli Foundation website, accessed 23/01/2011
  4. ^ a b c d e Tycho Brahe Prize 2010 Awarded to Telescope Designer, press release from the European Astronomical Society, 19 April 2010, accessed 23/01/2011
  5. ^ ESO archive of Raymond Wilson Honoured with Two Prestigious Prizes, The Messenger 142 – December 2010, page 41 (archived version accessed 23/01/2011)
  6. ^ High honour to Ray Wilson [Order of the French Legion of Honour], Richard West, The Messenger, No. 112, p. 56 (June 2003)
  7. ^ Lauréats des Prix de l'Académie de Sciences en 2005 Archived 22 August 2010 at the Wayback Machine, French Academy of Sciences website (in French), accessed 23/01/2011