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Yves-André Rocard

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22 May 1903

Vannes, France

16 March 1992

Paris, France

Yves Rocard was awarded a doctorate in mathematics in 1927 from the École Normale Supérieure, Paris. The following year he was awarded a doctorate in physical sciences. He was appointed to the chair of physics at École Normale Supérieure.

During World War II, Rocard was a member of a French Resistance group. In a highly dangerous mission, he was flown from France to England in a small airplane and, once in England, he became Head of the Research Department of the Free French Naval Forces. In fact this was to prove a significant time for Rocard in the development of his scientific ideas, for at this time he learnt that radars in England had been shown to have detected strong radio emission from the Sun. Of course this had not been detected during scientific work, rather the solar emission was detected as interfering with the 'proper' war time use of radar.

After the war, Rocard returned to France and proposed that France set up a site to conduct radio astronomy. Rocard was even able to get his hands on equipment to start off such a project, providing two German radar mirrors of 'Wurzburg' type each having a 7.5 meter diameter. Using his wartime contacts, Rocard was able to give his scientists access to the Research Centre of the French Navy at Marcoussis.

By 1952, despite the pioneering work in radio astronomy in France, it became clear that others were using more powerful instruments and the French could not compete. Rocard gave strong support to the project and the French Ministry of National Education gave 25 million Francs to the École Normale Supérieure. A site was found for the radio astronomy observatory at Nancay in the Cher region, 200 km due south of Paris.

In addition to his work on radio astronomy, Rocard contributed to the development of the French atomic bomb. He also undertook research into semiconductors.

In the last part of his life he studied biomagnetism and dowsing which reduced his standing in the eyes of many of his colleagues.

Source:School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews, Scotland