Professor Malcolm Longair


Physics, astrophysics and cosmology


Cavendish Laboratory 

Contact details:

Research interests:

If one had to choose a year to begin research into astrophysics and cosmology, 1963, when Professor Malcolm Longair (CBE, PhD, Litt.D) joined the Radio Astronomy Group of the Cavendish Laboratory as a research student under Martin Ryle, takes a lot of beating. The huge explosion of discoveries and insights in the following years – the discovery of quasars, the cosmic microwave background radiation and pulsars in the 1960s – was utterly staggering, as was the opening up of the complete electromagnetic spectrum for astronomical observations.  

Professor Longair had the luck to ride this wave of discovery, taking full advantage of the opportunities to carry out innovative research into the burgeoning fields of high energy astrophysics and astrophysical cosmology. After becoming a University Lecturer in the Cavendish, he moved to Edinburgh in 1980 where he was Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Regius Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. This was a fabulous opportunity to advance the technological capability of the UK in the new areas of infrared and millimetre astronomy, which are now the bread and butter of much of the most exciting contemporary astronomy. 

He returned to Cambridge in 1991 when he was appointed to the Jacksonian Professorship of Natural Philosophy. This was an opportunity to capitalise upon efforts in infrared and millimetre astronomy, as well as making the best use of guaranteed observing time on the Hubble Space Telescope.  He was appointed Deputy Head of the Laboratory with the responsibility for undergraduate teaching. At the same time, he became Vice-President of Clare Hall during Gillian Beer’s presidency. In 1997  he became Head of the Cavendish Laboratory for the subsequent eight years. This was a period of expansion of the physics programme, as well as the beginning of the efforts to rebuild the whole laboratory. He earned a two-year sabbatical for all these efforts and then, in his last year of formal service to the University, began the Cavendish Development Programme. He was rehired to continue this role on a ‘part-time’ basis and has been renewed in that role ever since.  

Select publications:

  • Theoretical Concepts in Physics (2003)
  • The Cosmic Century: A History of Astrophysics and Cosmology (2005)
  • Galaxy Formation (2008 with Springer)
  • High Energy Astrophysics (2011)
  • Quantum Concepts in Physics (2013)