MGM 2008 - A Museum of Me - Professor Chris Rapley CBE

| 06 May 2008
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Professor Chris Rapley took up his post as Director of the Science Museum on September 1 2007. He is well known as an expert in climate change science and was previously Director of the British Antarctic Survey.

A photo of a man.

Prof Chris Rapley. Courtesy The Science Museum.

Which object has inspired you to innovate or have a great idea?

There are two: the Ariel I spacecraft (probably an engineering model) which I saw on display at a Farnborough Air Show in the early Sixties, and the Jodrell Bank Mk1 (Lovell) telescope which I worked beside when I did an MSc in radioastronomy in 1970.

A photo of a satellite.

Ariel 1. © NASA

Which person has most inspired you?

Jim Lovelock because of his extraordinary, encyclopaedic knowledge of physics, chemistry and human medicine, his originality of thinking and especially his 'systems approach' to addressing the complex world we inhabit.

a photograph of a book jacket with the words GAIA on it and a phot of the earth

James Lovelock's most famous book, GAIA.

Which idea or invention are you most proud of?

The Bent Crystal Spectrometer flown on NASA’s Solar Maximum Mission. This was a new form of plasma diagnostics instrument used to study solar flares.

A photo of a solar flare.

Largest solar flare on record. © NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (NASA-MSFC)

It was ground-breaking in that my development of position sensitive X-ray detectors allowed the use of a curved crystal to disperse the spectrum and allow continuous measurements of the time variations of key groups of spectral lines. This gave previously unobtainable insights into the energy release process.

I was responsible for the design, build, integration in the spacecraft and operation of the first ever such instrument (an 8-channel system) and for the eight detectors used on a conventional Bragg crystal spectrometer which formed part of the same package.

Which innovation will have the most impact in the future?

My work and that of my research group (at the time) on the monitoring of ice sheet mass balance using spaceborne radar altimeters.

photo of an arch of ice with sea and glacial mountains behind

At the foot of Kongsvegen glacier, Tempelfjorden, Svalbard, 2004. © Cape Farewell

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