Dr Paul Ruffle

Paul Ruffle was a founding member of Halifax Cafe Scientifique and directed the organisation's programme in its first three years, successfully establishing it as a significant component of the town's cultural map. 

Following Paul's unexpected and early death in 2013 a special fund at the Royal Astronomical Society has been set up in his name to support specific education and public outreach projects. We hope to provide details of this shortly. 

In the meantime, Paul's website is still operating at http://www.paulruffle.com and the following obituary might be of interest to those who attend the meetings in Halifax. He is greatly missed. 

Obituary written by Tom Millar 

Published in RAS Astronomy and Geophysics Magazine, April 2014

Dr Paul Ruffle, who was an Honorary Auditor of the Royal Astronomical Society, died aged 62 on November 21, 2013, from complications following an operation.  

Paul was born in London and left school at 16 to work in an art agency during which time he attended St Martin’s College of Art.  Although art was, at that time, his major talent in life, he had also developed an interest in astronomy during his school days.  His career took him to a variety of advertising agencies and publishing companies.  In 1987 he became publications production manager of RCI Europe a company which specialized in multi-lingual holiday brochures. It was at this point that he became an earlier adopter of technology and an enthusiastic fan of the Apple Mac – the design of Apple products being almost as important to him as their functionality. Paul spent 13 years at RCI Europe taking the roles of Head of Creative Services, Director of Multimedia Development and Director of Special Internet Projects.

Married and with a young family, Paul found time in 1989 to enroll as a student in Natural Sciences at the Open University but his studies were soon interrupted for six years by the death of his wife. In 2001 – at the age of 50 – he attended a ‘Young Physicists’ conference and realized that the possibility of being a PhD student was not limited to the temporally young. In October 2002, Paul sat his final examination as an OU student and the following day started his PhD at UMIST, in an office 5 floors above his examination room.

Paul was my first and, to date, only PhD student older than myself which created an interesting dynamic between us and in the rest of the research group. (My children couldn’t understand how a PhD student could afford his bright red Mercedes SLR whilst I, seemingly, could not).  Paul was an enthusiast in everything he did and undertaking his PhD was no exception. Shortly after commencing his studies with me, Albert Zijlstra ‘borrowed’ him, ostensibly for a short time, to help complete a project on dust extinction in Galactic Bulge planetary nebulae.  Paul, though, loved to learn by doing and would often bring things back to fundamentals in order to ensure that he had completely mastered a topic, so there was no way that he would approach this project in a utilitarian manner – it was therefore some time before he returned to his study with me of molecular and dust emission from Giant Molecular Clouds in the outer edges of the Galaxy.  During his PhD Paul attended the IRAM Summer School on radio astronomy and subsequently volunteered there as a telescope operator. He became a skilled radio astronomer during his PhD and observed at Nobeyama, SEST, the JCMT and the NRAO 12m telescopes, amongst others.

On finishing his PhD in 2006, now as a student in the University of Manchester, Paul moved to a post-doctoral position at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia.  He had warned them at interview that they wouldn’t be recruiting a typical post-doc. They thought this was a reference to his age – how wrong they were!  Paul brought with him not only his talent in art, but also a love of music and the theatre. Here, too, he was not simply an observer but a practitioner and the corridors were soon ringing with duets from Paul and his office mate Jules Hartnett.  He had a fine sense of humour and often used to tell jokes at the ‘colonists’ expense – he had a fine knowledge of rhyming slang with which to baffle them!

On retirement he returned to England to a new home in Hebden Bridge with his partner, Dr Rose Wheeler. The restoration of this house and its gardens provided Paul with yet another opportunity to marry technology with design and he installed solar panels, a water catchment and management system and a weather station that is a major source of information for residents of the Calder Valley (www.owlers.com).   He had caught the astronomy bug, however, and became very involved in public outreach and became widely known through lectures to amateur astronomy associations and on local radio.  In these he was able to combine his love of astronomy, art and design – web design was one of his hobbies – see www.paulruffle.com. Dr Ciska Kemper, then at the University of Manchester, lured him out of retirement to a part-time post working on the Spitzer SAGE-Spec project, work in which he was still involved at the time of his death.

Paul was energetic, committed, enthusiastic, and evangelical about astronomy, like a child with the Universe to explore and he made the most of the unexpected opportunity he had late in life.  He was full of fun and laughter, coupled with just the right amount of mischief, and a healthy disregard for pomposity.  None of us who worked with him were untouched by his life and, just as profoundly, by his unexpected death.  He is survived by his partner, Rose, and his children, Andrew and Lara and their families.