Professor Peter Saraga OBE CBE FREng CPhys Hon.FInstP (1942-2023)
Physicist and engineer who pioneered new technologies from HD TV to AI and shaped education policy in the UK and overseas.
Professor Peter Saraga, a past President of the Institute of Physics (IOP), had a distinguished career in applied physics research culminating in his directorship of Philips Research Laboratories UK, where he was responsible for major research programmes in displays, wireless communications and interactive digital television.
He was born in 1942 in St Paul’s Cray in Kent and educated at Eltham College. Peter obtained an MA degree in natural sciences (physics) at the University of Cambridge and an MPhil in electrical engineering at Imperial College London before joining Philips Research from 1964-1992 to work in the fields of optical character recognition, machine vision for industrial robots, high-definition television, liquid crystal display systems, and artificial intelligence.
This led to him joining the international management team to become director of Philips Research Laboratories UK from 1992-2002. Peter went on to hold numerous non-executive and advisory roles in STEM outreach, higher education, and science policy, helping to shape the future of physics and engineering education in the UK as well as informing international policy in technology and training.
A Board member of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) from 2002-2008, Peter chaired its Advisory Group on Strategically Important and Vulnerable Subjects and its assessment panel for the UK Research Partnership Innovation Fund. He also chaired the industry advisory panel for the Cockcroft Institute and an international science benchmarking review at the National Physical Laboratory.
Peter’s wider contributions to physics in the UK came via his engagement with HEFCE, where he led the pilot study Impact for Physics for the Research Excellence Framework 2014 (REF2014), which shaped how impact would be assessed in that exercise, and he went on to be a member of the Physics Panel for REF2014.
He served as President of the IOP from 2006-2008 and was awarded Honorary Fellowship in 2017. Peter continued to support the work of the IOP and contributed much to the agenda of the organisation, most recently through membership of the board of IOP Enterprises.
A strong advocate for applied physics and engineering, he was awarded an OBE in 2002 and a CBE in 2009.
A visiting professor at Imperial, a member of Loughborough University Council and a Vice-Chair of the University of Sussex Council from 2005-2011, Peter also chaired advisory boards at the University of Surrey, where he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in 2002. In 2019 he joined the Council of Royal Holloway, University of London, where he also served on committees, bringing his great wealth of experience to the development of the research strategy.
Peter was Vice-President and Honorary International Secretary of the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEing) from 2003-2009, having been elected a Fellow of RAEing in 1996. He served as a judge for the MacRobert Award, the most prestigious prize for UK engineering innovation, from 2013-2016, and, as Chair of RAEing’s International Committee, he oversaw its initial policy work on engineering and international development.
He also built a strong relationship with Euro-CASE, the European network of national engineering academies. As Treasurer, Peter set Euro-CASE on a sustainable financial footing and helped it focus on its core mission of informing EU policy.
He also served as Chair of the Advisory Board of the Active and Assisted Living (AAL) Programme, a public partnership of more than 20 countries and the EU Commission, from its inception in 2008 until 2018. He was elected President of the Executive Board of the AAL Association in 2018, where he remained until his illness.
Social and gregarious, he loved opera and playing golf and was an obsessive Arsenal fan, holding two season tickets since 1987. He had two children, Becca and David, from his first marriage to Jessica, and three grandchildren. After his first marriage ended in divorce in 1996, Peter married Ann Coffey in 1998. They became estranged in 2021 shortly after his cancer diagnosis. He is also survived by his sister Esther.
Peter died on 23 February 2023 at St Christopher’s Hospice in Sydenham, London.
Image credit: AAL Association