Professor Sir Eric Ash (1928 – 2021) – community remembers former Rector | Imperial News


Sir Eric Ash




Professor Sir Eric Ash, Imperial Rector between 1985 and 1993, has handed away aged 93.

Sir Eric remained concerned in College life into his 90s, commonly attending alumni occasions, scholar live shows, and enthusiastically supporting the Ash Music Scholarships together with his spouse Clare.  

He gave a lot to Imperial by way of his regular management, mentoring and analysis. Professor Alice Gast President

Born in Berlin in 1928, Ulrich Albert Asch, Eric – as he got here to be recognized – migrated to Britain together with his household in 1938 to flee Nazi Germany.  

His lifelong connections with Imperial started when he gained a scholarship to check his electrical engineering BSc after which his PhD, finding out beneath Denis Gabor, the Nobel Prize successful inventor of holography and the flat tv tube, who had additionally fled the Nazis. When requested of Professor Gabor’s influencer, talking in 2000 Sir Eric stated: “We’re all children of our parents, and certainly children of the person who supervised our PhDs.” 

Professor Alice Gast, President of Imperial College London, stated: “Eric was a visionary leader and scientist who will always be remembered for his warmth and optimism. He gave so much to Imperial through his steady leadership, mentoring and research. He remained very active at the College, and I loved spending time with him, whether to celebrate the unveiling of the Ernst Chain Blue Plaque, or to honour others at dinners for the Schrodinger lecture, or the National Academy of Engineering – Royal Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges Summit. He and Clare also lit up when they were surrounded by their wonderful Ash Scholars. Their love of music and our musicians leaves a lasting legacy and meaningful example for philanthropists.” 

Group of men and women in formal wear, some with instruments

Pioneering analysis  

Sir Eric made vital contributions in electron optics and pioneered analysis on floor acoustic waves for sign processing. This know-how has vital makes use of in cell phones, televisions and area-borne communications techniques. 

His analysis led to new strategies and enhancements within the decision of acoustic microscopes which use ultrahigh-frequency sound waves to probe the interior options of stable supplies for defects. They are sometimes used within the manufacture of digital parts.  

Sir Eric was a Research Fellow at Stanford University between 1952 and 1954 earlier than returning to London and ultimately changing into Head of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at University College London in 1980. He was awarded the Faraday Medal of Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1980 and the Royal Medal of the Royal Society in 1986. He grew to become Rector at Imperial in 1985. 

One step forward  

As Rector, Sir Eric oversaw the merger of St Mary’s Hospital Medical School with Imperial in 1988. He felt this was a means for Imperial to reposition itself, but additionally as a method to increase the variety of ladies finding out on the College which he believed was very crucial.  

Imperial’s Faculty of Medicine is now ranked among the many world’s best.

Professor Christof Toumazou who joined Imperial when Sir Eric was Rector explains: “He saw the importance of interdisciplinary way ahead of his time. He merged engineering with medicine – without that we would not be creating devices to save lives at Imperial.” 

Sir Eric was additionally a eager adopter of recent applied sciences, even when that meant overcoming the objections of colleagues. Speaking about his time as Rector he recalled: “I had the greatest difficulty in persuading many of my colleagues to go over to email probably in around about 1987. I then instituted a system where I would communicate with Heads of Department only by email and that really did bring home the message that this was the way to go.” 

Sir Eric Ash, former Rector of Imperial College London talking in May 2006, as a part of a sequence of interviews for the Imperial College Centenary celebrations in 2007.

Trusted mentor  

Former colleagues describe how Sir Eric inspired and supported them early of their careers and remained a valued mentor over time. 

Professor Christof Toumazou stated: “When I used to be a younger lecturer he visited me in Electrical Engineering the place I gave a chat on Cochlear implants. After the discuss he requested me if I had printed the work. I had not and panicked since my early profession path relied on publishing. I used to be trustworthy and stated no, realizing that he can be upset, and I’d be embarrassed. On the opposite. He stated that’s excellent news. I requested why. 

“He said you have created the world’s first totally implantable Cochlear for born deaf children. Why publish – patent the thing straight away. ‘Patent or perish’ were his words. These words stuck with me ever since and this was indeed the beginning of my entrepreneurial life. He was a great inspiration to research and commercialisation. He will be missed a lot, but his vision lives on.” 

Professor Dame Julia Higgins, who witnessed Sir Eric’s sturdy assist for girls, stated: “I first met Eric not lengthy after he grew to become Rector and was making exploratory visits to all of the departments within the College. He got here spherical Chemical Engineering and talked to among the analysis teams, together with my very own. I later acquired a message from my then Head of Department saying that Eric was encouraging me to use for Professorship within the division. This was typical of Eric’s very sturdy assist for girls in science, engineering and know-how, which he as soon as informed me arose from the truth that he had 5 daughters! Certainly from that point on I discovered him a terrific mentor and advocate in my profession, assist which continued lengthy after he left the College in 1993.”

Fond recollections

Proessor Dame Julia Higgins continued: “Some of my most recent memories of him are from functions at the Institute of Physics while I was its President. When Rector, Eric was notorious for using a bicycle for transport round London and he still cycled (in full evening dress) to the Institute of Physics Annual Awards dinner in 2018. Over the years Eric became a good friend and I shall miss seeing him very much indeed.”

Elderly white man in suit and tie rides bicycle
Portrait of Sir Eric Ash within the Council Room at 170 Queen’s Gate. Artist: Sue Ryder (1993)

Professor Eric Yeatman, Sir Eric’s solely PhD scholar throughout his time as Rector of the College noticed him commonly till final 12 months. He stated “Often we might meet for lunch on the Royal Society in latter years, which had turn out to be a type of residence away from residence for him. It grew to become more and more spectacular as he neared, after which handed, the age of 90 that he would flip up on his bicycle, having cycled down from his residence in Islington.

“As his solely scholar, I’d commonly be referred to as upon to fill an empty seat at one in all his common “bistro” dinners at 170 Queen’s Gate, when a visitor had cancelled on the final second. A characteristic of those dinners, his spouse Clare’s innovation, was that after the principle course a brand new seating plan would emerge and we’d all transfer and converse with a brand new set of individuals. I’m certain there are lots of individuals related to the College who met one another on one in all these very entertaining events.”

Jag Mohan Puri, President of the Imperial College Alumni Association of India additionally recollects the heat of Sir Eric and his spouse Clare: “We met in 1988 on his first go to to Calcutta after they accompanied us to an Indian marriage ceremony and over the following 34 years we met commonly in London and in India. I shall at all times bear in mind his nice sense of humour, the heat of his friendship, his love for the theatre, good meals, dialog and their stunning Christmas playing cards.”

Not a quiet retirement 

After retiring from Imperial in 1993, Sir Eric labored on academic know-how as an emeritus professor at UCL. He did consulting work for numerous corporations, sitting on the board of British Telecom as a non-govt director from 1987 to 1993.  

A passionate violinist and appreciator of music, Sir Eric continued to attend live shows at Imperial, providing assist and recommendation to college students, for many years after his retirement.

He additionally supported and attended many alumni occasions. Miranda Bellchambers President, Imperial College Club of Germany Alumni recollects: It was with nice pleasure that Eric joined us for the Imperial College Club of Germany Alumni assembly in June 2019 at Queen’s Gate. Even on the ripe previous age of 91, he was enthralled at our gathering and emphatically urged us to proceed researching for brand new environmental methods of enriching our planet. It was solely having learn his vita beneath his portray in Queen’s Gate that I realised he had emigrated from Berlin in 1938 in the identical means my mom had escaped from Vienna in 1938 and that this was additionally a bond that certain us collectively; a magical second.”

Group of people pose for photograph in ornate room
Imperial College Club of Germany Alumni assembly (June 2019)

He additionally chaired the BBC’s Science Advisory Committee and was a trustee of the Royal Institution and the Science Museum, in addition to serving as a member of the Advisory Council of the Campaign for Science and Engineering. He was CEO of the Student Loans Company (1994-96), remaining a non-govt director of the corporate till 2000. 

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1977, serving as treasurer and vice-president of the Society from 1997 to 2002.  

Service of thanksgiving 

Sir Eric is survived by Clare, his spouse of 67 years, 5 daughters and 11 grandchildren. A service of thanksgiving will observe his personal funeral. 



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