UCL Astrophysics Group


Dr Bill Somerville

Deceased 22nd January 2021.

Remembering Bill Somerville - Message from Professor Raman Prinja, HoD:

After a long illness that kept him away from UCL for the last couple of years,  our beloved Bill Somerville passed away on January 22nd. I'm grateful to Francisco Diego for providing the following testament.

Bill leaves a wonderful year legacy, from welcoming to UCL many undergraduates that would become the successful scientists still around us today, to an excellent teacher always caring for his students. But this legacy goes much further. Bill was a major pillar of the very successful Diploma in Astronomy (today a Certificate course), which along nearly 20 years has changed the lives of  hundreds of mature students, some of them embarking in post graduate courses and most of them are now fellows of the RAS. Bill founded the Diploma Club which welcomes all Certificate alumni in monthly lectures, science trips to CERN and solar eclipses. I had the privilege of being part of this all even sharing an office with him and others in recent years. Every month, Bill would arrive carrying 2 or 3 bags full of nibbles and wine for the E3/7 receptions that followed the lectures in the Harrie Massey LT. All under his own initiative. When Bill's health deteriorated, I took over the Diploma Club and this kept me in touch with him, with my home deliveries of papers and personal items from his UCL desk. I found him always with his typical sense of humour that he shared with his wife Jackie.

Here is a brief selection of lovely messages from those who had the privilege to meet and work with him.

------------------- His great legacy, I think, is that, after our astronomy courses, he wanted to  continue to feed the appetites of mature students for knowledge of our universe  and he recognised that we would welcome ways of socialising; in doing this he  also gave opportunities in public speaking to PhD candidates.

------------------ Very sorry to hear the news of Bill Somerville’ s passing. He was another one of  the department who had time for students. Again, a sense of humour you had to  get used to and his beautiful Scottish accent will be sadly missed. 

------------------- I knew Bill for more than 25 years, from back in the 1990s when he lectured me  as an undergraduate, to being a valued colleague on the Diploma/Certificate in  Astronomy more recently. He was a lovely, very kind man, always in possession  of a humorous observation and with a twinkle in his eye. I'm very glad I was  able to share an office with him over the last few years.

 ------------------- I remember Bill’s manner was warm and welcoming and although he was obviously a  professional in the field he was full of humility and understanding for my  personal situation.  He helped to rekindle my interest in the subject of  astronomy. That interview that he gave me in his room in the UCL department of Physics and  Astronomy back in 2005 helped to reignite my interest and kickstart my  Astronomical journey.  It has been a memorable and thoroughly enjoyable subject  for me and I feel it is far from over!

------------------- Someone told me about the Astronomy Diploma, and I thought that it would be  perfect for me.  Back in my Uni days, I loved Physics, but my maths wasn’t up  to it so I had to settle for Chemistry.  This was the chance to rekindle my love for all things Astrophysics.  And to  make like-minded friends. I was so inspired that I went on to study for a  part-time MSc in Astronomy at Sussex University.  Bill made all of this (and so much more) possible.  He gave me a gateway to our  beautiful universe.

Thank you, Bill.

Please click here to see Bill's UCL page and here to view his list of publications.