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Dundee scientist Arthur Cracknell who used space images to help environment dies aged 80

Professor Arthur Cracknell.
Professor Arthur Cracknell.

A distinguished scientist who harnessed the power of Dundee’s satellite receiving station to monitor changes in the environment has died.

Arthur P Cracknell, who was 80, was professor of theoretical physics at Dundee University when the station was developed by the electrical engineering and electronics department.

Professor Cracknell then created the means of taking the data gathered by the satellite and interpreting it for use by environmental scientists and engineers in Dundee.


He was one of the pioneers in this remote sensing work at a time when the field was in its infancy.

Both the satellite station and Professor Cracknell’s techniques went on to receive national and international recognition.

In time, Dundee would have one of the largest groups of people working on remote sensing in any UK university.

The data interpreted by Professor Cracknell’s team was used to measure ozone depletion, sea temperature and currents and to monitor the effects of forest fires, among many other applications.

Arthur Cracknell was born in Illford, Essex, on May 18, 1940, to Christopher Cracknell, a shipping clerk, and his wife Phyllis.

Professor Cracknell at a ceremony to cement a co-operation agreement between Dundee University and Chiang Mai School of Technology, Thailand.

After primary education in the town, he won a scholarship to the private Chigwell School.

He remained there until 1958 when he went to Pembroke College, Cambridge, to study natural sciences and physics.

Between 1961 and 1964 Professor Cracknell studied the band structure of metals at Oxford University for his PhD.


While he was at Oxford, he met his future wife Margaret, a fellow physics postgraduate student. Professor Cracknell then took up a lecturing post in Singapore and in 1966 the couple married.

After a return to the UK and a period lecturing at Essex University, the couple moved to Dundee. Professor’s Cracknell’s first position was a senior lecturer while his wife taught physics at Carnoustie High School.

He was promoted to reader in 1974 and professor of theoretical physics in 1978. He later transferred to the Carnegie Chair of Physics in the department of Applied Physics and Electronic and Mechanical Engineering.

Professor Cracknell served on several internal and external bodies and undertook three separate periods as head of department.

Arthur and Margaret Cracknell with their grandchildren.

During his career he had around 300 research papers and several books published and was editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Remote Sensing for over 25 years.

Professor Cracknell retired from Dundee University in September 2002 and then, as an emeritus professor, continued as an active scientist, teaching, researching and contributing presentations at conferences around the world.

Honorary doctorate

Shortly before his death he completed his final book with Professor CA Varotsos of Athens University, an institution which had awarded him an honorary doctorate..

A man of strong Christian faith, Professor Cracknell converted from Anglicism to Catholicism while at Cambridge and played an active role in the life of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Broughty Ferry.

A keen traveller, Professor Cracknell is survived by his wife Margaret, children Chris, Trish and Andree and six grandchildren.

The family’s announcement can be read here.






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