Basil Hiley – Their Time.
- 11th May 2021
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Dubbed ‘The Rockstar of Physics’, Basil Hiley is a man discovering more in his 80s than many of us will in our entire lifetimes.
It’s easy to lose count of the times Basil says “I’ve been very lucky”. He says it in relation to everything from chance timings, to health, to family, to work, to growing up. Perhaps it is this positivity, teamed with hard work and a deep intelligence which has led him to become such an esteemed quantum physicist and professor emeritus of the University of London, where he still works doing research and writing books.
“I was lucky”, he says, “everything just fell into place. I never set out saying ‘I’m going to be a professor’. I’m far more interested in football and cricket. I just found I was good at it. The harder it got the easier I found it.”
Basil was born in Burma and grew up in the Punjab in India where his father worked in the military. He moved around a lot and played truant and had little formal education as a child although he says he learned a lot about life. He moved to the UK aged 12 and attended a school where his love affair with science was ignited.
He is still working because he is compelled to. He sees life as a puzzle and explains that “the quantum world is not like just getting into a car and driving off because there is no solidity beneath it all”. He says,
“There’s so much out there we don’t know. And some of us aren’t able to ignore it. Don’t ask me why I can’t. It’s a journey. It’s a process”.
Basil clearly has a huge impact on his family and students as well as the world of quantum physics and there is now a nod towards his work in the form of Antony Gormley’s sculpture, Quantum Cloud, which was developed as a result of a conversation between Basil and Gormley on algebra and pre-space.
Basil loves hitting the “hard stuff”, which, to him, is dropping atoms and seeing how they behave. He says he has done more research since he “retired” than in the whole 40 years he was employed. He puts this down to the ever-increasing demands on researchers in the form of unnecessary paperwork and processes which stifled the work process. He believes later life is the ideal time to do research when the mind can run free and the pressure is off. His biggest conundrum now is writing his latest book with severe dyslexia. He can’t get someone else to help as no one understands it well enough but he will forge on through.
“Through Their Time, Laura Page, Photographer and Rebecca Vassie Memorial award winner, has captured the lives of older people during the pandemic, setting out to challenge the perceptions of ageing. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing the intricate stories captured throughout the past year. So keep an eye out on STOPageism and across our social channels!
To learn more about Laura, her perception of ageing and ageism, and to discover more about Their Time, click here.”