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Dr. Colin S. Gum

1924 − 29-04-1960

On 1960 April 29, Dr Gum died in a skiing accident at Zermatt in Switzerland, where he was visiting for a brief holiday.

He had been appointed last year to the post of Senior Lecturer in Astrophysics at Sydney University and for the past ten months he had been working as a Carnegie Fellow at the Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories. He had gone to Europe to talk with astronomers and manufacturers about the plans for a 36-inch reflector for Sydney University and the accident in. Switzerland occurred between his visit to Holland and his going to Germany. Colin Gum was one of the best liked and most admired of younger Australian astronomers and many of us have a deep sense of personal loss at his too early death. Australia is still very short of first class astronomers trained and educated in the country, and his death is a severe blow to the development of Australian astronomy.

Colin Gum was born in 1924; he received his Honours B.Sc. degree in physics from Adelaide University in 1949. He came to Mount Stromlo Observatory directly from Adelaide University and he received his M.Sc. degree from Adelaide University on the basis of work done at Mount Stromlo (1951). In 1955 he was awarded his Ph.D. by the Australian National University, being one of the first to receive the Doctorate from this university. In 1956 he was appointed a Research Officer in the Division of Radiophysics of the C.S.I.R.O., and he held this post until 1959, when he was asked to take charge of the programme in Observational Optical Astronomy in the School of Physics of Sydney University.

During his relatively brief career, Dr Gum has made some notable scientific contributions. Jointly with Professor C. W. Allen, he carried out from Mount Stromlo Observatory one of the early sky surveys (1950) of the distribution of radio noise (at 200 Mc/s), and he will be remembered for many years to come for his successful search for and discovery of hydrogen-emission regions of the Southern Milky Way.

The large and significant complex of nebulosity in Puppis and Vela is generally referred to as "Gum's Nebula" ; a finer monument is difficult to imagine. His Survey of Southern H II Regions (Royal Astronomical Society Memoirs, Vol. 67, part 4, 1955) has become a standard reference volume for all workers in the field.

During his three years at the Radiophysics Laboratory, Dr Gum worked primarily with Dr Frank J. Kerr on problems relating to the spiral structure from 21 cm observations of the Southern Milky Way. He was an active and very effective member of the Sub-Commission of the International Astronomical Union, which re-defined the Galactic Pole, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society on 1955 October 14.

Upon his return to optical astronomy last year, he turned to problems of interstellar polarization and he indicated that he would want to spend much time in the years to come on questions relating to galactic magnetic fields.

For a person of his age, Colin Gum leaves behind a solid and impressive bibliography of significant scientific contributions and, in spite of his too- early death, he has left his permanent mark on the development of astronomy.


This article by Nick Lomb points out that Colin Gum's legacy has been noted with the naming of a crater on the moon as well as the famous Gum Nebula.

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