2021 IOP Technician Award - National Research Facilities

Phillip Clarke, The University of Manchester, Jodrell Bank Observatory

For his outstanding contribution to provision of world-class radio astronomy instrumentation at Jodrell Bank Observatory and the e-MERLIN National Facility for use by UK and international astronomers.

Phillip Clarke 2021 IOP Technician Award winner

Phillip Clarke leads a small group of highly skilled technicians who look after the nine radio telescopes operated by the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Observatory. Seven of these, all 25 metres in diameter or greater, form the basis of the e-MERLIN National Facility funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

In addition to coordinating all maintenance work, Clarke designs and builds equipment to improve the operating efficiency of the telescopes and reduce risk to personnel and equipment.

The iconic, world-famous, 76-metre-diameter Lovell Telescope continues to operate as an important scientific instrument after more than 60 years of use. In fact, it is in as high demand as ever for the study of pulsars and as part of the e-MERLIN array.

That this classic instrument can continue to do valuable science after such a long service is due, in no small measure, to Clarke, whose in-depth knowledge of the workings of the telescope and whose dedication to keeping it well-maintained is admirable. This enormous steel structure is subject to huge stresses, particularly in strong winds, and it takes much dedication to keep it from being damaged.

After 42 years’ continuous service at Jodrell Bank Observatory, Clarke has come to be the acknowledged expert on most aspects of the Lovell Telescope and can be relied upon to provide reliable guidance on operational matters, maintenance and repairs. His unique knowledge and experience enable him to diagnose faults rapidly and come up with efficient repairs, often coordinating and supervising the work of outside contractors, thereby maximising the science output.

Although it is not a requirement of his contract, Clarke also offers a 24/7 call-out service for the Lovell Telescope. The team of telescope controllers know they can call Clarke any time, day or night, for advice about the telescope and, if he suspects something serious, he will travel to the observatory to investigate.

This prompt investigation can avoid costly failures and helps maximise the scientific output of the instrument.