In memoriam: Grahame H Rees
17 Oct 2023



Members of STFC, and ISIS in particular, will be saddened to learn of the death of Grahame Rees, who passed away peacefully in his sleep on Wednesday 11 October 2023, aged 92.

Graham H Rees

​​Grahame H Rees​

From the time that, as a young graduate student at Cambridge, he was head-hunted by Aldermaston, to well after his formal retirement from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Grahame Rees's ideas and fertile mind have been sought after by accelerator laboratories worldwide. Many people will be familiar with the famous scene in the movie ‘Goldfinger’ where James Bond is almost sliced in two by a high power laser but few will be aware that it was devised by Grahame Rees. Another scene featured a bomb that was also his handiwork. But if Rees is not associated with Bond, his name will certainly be remembered in the particle accelerator world where he was able to switch with ease between practical and theoretical aspects of machine design, and played a major role in the development of many different types of accelerator over a period of almost 60 years.

Grahame joined the Rutherford High Energy Laboratory (as it was then known) in 1962 to work on the 7 GeV Nimrod proton synchrotron. Involvement in advanced superconducting synchrotron designs and ideas for accelerator-driven heavy ion fusion led into a major role in the team that designed the ISIS machine. The success of ISIS and its appearance in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's most intense source of pulsed neutrons was to a large extent a consequence of Grahame’s innovation and attention to detail. At various times throughout his career he produced ideas for upgrading the existing ISIS accelerators to higher beam powers as well as designs for a much more powerful future neutron facility. His deep knowledge and understanding were fundamental to studies for the TRIUMF Kaon Factory and the European Hadron Facility (EHF), which morphed into the European Spallation Source (ESS), in those days, like ISIS, a short pulse machine. In the 1990’s work intensified on the design of high power proton accelerators, which were seen to be vitally important as drivers for future spallation neutron and muon sources, for a neutrino factory or a muon collider. It is probably true to say that when these studies began, it was not known how to surmount the challenges; by the time Grahame retired, thanks to his innovation and guidance, we considered we knew how to build such an accelerator and make it work.
Grahame officially retired in 1996 and was awarded the OBE by the Queen for services to Particle Physics. But as someone who lived and breathed accelerators, he was back at RAL the following week as a part-time consultant. He switched interests from circular accelerators to linear machines, producing two new theoretical models for the ESS linac and several ideas for improving operation of the American SNS. He looked into small accelerators for cancer therapy, and also produced some novel ideas for accelerator operation to which he attached exotic names - invariably derived from Welsh.

For much of his career, Grahame was head of ISIS’ Theory and Future Projects Group, but he was seldom regarded as a “boss”; to most he was simply a friend. He would freely give of his time and his astute advice on a range of topics was much appreciated. Those who knocked on his door would be amused to see him emerge from among huge piles of immaculately stacked papers, and how, on being asked a question, he would turn to one pile or another, carefully extract a document and say “This is what you need”. He was a kind and generous person to work with, with a sense of humour typified by a new joke to start any international project meeting. His great love was rugby union and he refused to travel to any conference at weekends when his beloved Wales were playing. When the going got tough or an argument was going against him, he would say “Oh well, I have a debenture” with reference to his personal seat at the Welsh national stadium, as if retreating there would solve his problems and all would be right with the world again.

His passing brings for many of his friends and colleagues the end to an era. The UK has been lucky to have had in its employ one of the most talented accelerator physicists of his generation. If it had not been for Grahame Rees - his ideas, his work, his international status - it is arguable that the country would not be the strong centre for accelerator physics that it is now. Grahame leaves a wife, Barbro, three sons, Jan, Trevor and Alan, and six grandchildren, of whom he was immensely proud. The sympathies of STFC go to them and all members of the family.

Obituary written by Chris Prior.

Contact: Prior, Chris (STFC,RAL,ISIS)