Published: 11 October 2018

Influential University of Surrey academic passes away

The University of Surrey was saddened to learn of the passing of one of our most influential pioneering academics, Professor Lewis Elton.

Professor Elton, who was appointed Head of the Physics Department in 1958, played a critical role in transforming Battersea College of Technology into the University of Surrey.

His arrival at the College sparked a flurry of research activity which saw the number of research students increase from 1 to 40 in his first decade at the institution – helping to enhance the world-wide reputation of the University.

When he became Head of the Department of Science Education in 1971, Professor Elton handed over the reins of the Department of Physics to Professor Daphne Jackson, the first female physics professor in the United Kingdom.

Lewis Elton’s impact on the University of Surrey was not limited to the classroom and research – he also had a hand in shaping the University’s and Guildford’s cultural life. Professor Elton staged the first exhibitions of art in the Physics Department corridors in Battersea and continued these shows when the University moved to Guildford.  Among the artists to exhibit were Charles Bone, Sir George Pollock, James Winterbottom and David Hockney.  The University opened the campus’s Lewis Elton Gallery in 1997 in his honour.

In 2005, he was awarded a Times Higher Education Lifetime Achievement award. In recognition of his pivotal role in establishing the Surrey Physics Department, the Lewis Elton lecture series was founded in 2011, bringing speakers to the University such as Sir Roger Penrose, Brian Cox, Athene Donald and Lucie Green.

Professor Max Lu, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Surrey, said: “Our Physics Department and the whole University of Surrey community are thinking of his family during this very sad time. His remarkable influence can be felt today in our University classrooms and our rich cultural life.”

Professor Justin Read, Head of the Department of Physics at the University of Surrey, said: “We are extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Lewis Elton, former head of this department in the 1960s, which was a time of great transition for the University. Professor Elton’s legacy extends far beyond physics at Surrey: while he led the Department of Science Education, he had significant influence in improving and modernising teaching standards and the overall learning experience. The University is indebted to Professor Elton’s bottomless passion for teaching. Our thoughts are with his family.”

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