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Papers of Alexander Boksenberg, 1981 - 1996

Reference Code: GBR/0180/RGO 176

Scope and Contents

Records created by Alexander Boksenberg while Director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, 1981-1996.

The collection is currently uncatalogued. A partial boxlist is available on application to the RGO archivist.


  • Creation: 1981 - 1996


Conditions Governing Access

From the Management Group:

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

Biographical / Historical

Alexander Boksenberg was born on 18th March 1936 and spent his infant to secondary schooling in north London, then university in central London obtaining a Bachelor of Science in 1957 and a Doctorate in Atomic Physics at University College London (UCL) in 1961. In 1960 he married classical pianist Adella Coren Boksenberg, with whom he has two children, Jonathan and Tanya.

Boksenberg is noted for his exceptional contributions to the development and construction of uniquely advanced telescopes, astronomical instrumentation and detector systems for use on the ground and in space and for his landmark discoveries concerning the nature of active galactic nuclei, the makeup and physics of the intergalactic medium and of the interstellar gas in primordial galaxies.

Much of Boksenberg’s early career continued at UCL, where from 1960-1981 he progressed from Research Assistant to Lecturer in Physics, Reader in Physics and Professor of Physics. Overlapping these, from 1969-1981 he was Head of the Ultraviolet and Optical Astronomy Research Group which he established, and also Science Research Council (SRC) Senior Fellow from 1976-1981. In 1960 he had changed from atomic physics to observational astronomy in the broadest sense, inventing and developing new instrumentation of extraordinary sensitivity for space and ground based astronomy and in particular his revolutionary Image Photon Counting System (IPCS) in 1968, which he and then a great many other astronomers used on ground-based telescopes over the globe, as well as being the basis of the Faint Object Camera which was among the first instruments for the Hubble Space Telescope. He is also responsible for the innovative designs of the main spectrographic instruments for the prior International Ultraviolet Explorer Satellite and TD-1A sky-scanning satellite, based on other critical optical equipment which he invented, including the powerful sun-baffle systems for all of these. Additionally, he led reviews on design aspects of several new international ground-based telescopes.

He was made Director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory from 1981-1996, critically moving its existing telescopes to the Spanish internationalised mountain observatory on La Palma in the Canary Islands and then building there the new optical 4.2 metre William Herschel Telescope, whose high performance concept and compact structure he had personally introduced when the original version had been cancelled due to its unaffordable price. From 1981 to 1989 he was also Visiting Professor of Astronomy at the University of Sussex. In 1990 he oversaw the move of the Observatory home base from Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex to a new building successfully established in Cambridge close to the Institute of Astronomy (IoA). In 1993 he was appointed Director also of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh and running the UK Infrared Telescope and the giant millimetre-wave James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, while at the same time additionally being the UK Director for construction of the two international optical/infrared 8 metre Gemini Telescopes in Hawai'i and Chile. He was also Executive Editor of Experimental Astronomy (Springer Publishers), Master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers and over 2000-2010 was Chair of the UK National Commission for UNESCO and centrally led a complete reconstruction of UNESCO’s Natural Sciences Programme.

Since 1996, he is Honorary Professor of Experimental Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, and additionally was Research Professor and PPARC Senior Research Fellow at the IoA from 1996 to 1999 and now is continuing as Professor Emeritus. He has over 240 publications in learned journals.

He has been awarded, inter alia, Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), Docteur Honoris Causa Observatoire de Paris, DSc Honoris Causa University of Sussex, the Royal Society Hughes Medal, the Institute of Physics Glazebrook Medal and Prize, the Royal Astronomical Society Jackson Gwilt Medal, and has Asteroid Boksenberg named by the International Astronomical Union.


11 banker's box(es) (11 boxes, 11 box-files & 1 folder)

11 file(s)

1 folder(s)

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
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Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom