Patrick Baird

Obituary: Patrick Baird

Atomic and Laser Physics

The Department of Physics is sorry to announce the death of Patrick Baird on 12 November 2023. Patrick first came to the Department of Physics – or the Clarendon Laboratory, as it would have been then – in 1970 as a graduate student under the supervision of Professor Derek Stacey. He submitted his thesis, on 'Investigations in high resolution spectroscopy using digital techniques' in 1973.

Patrick became a leading expert in high resolution laser spectroscopy and precise tests of fundamental physical theories such as quantum electrodynamics (QED), and the theory of the weak interaction by experimental measurements of parity conservation in atoms. He was elected to a Research Lecturership at Christ Church, before moving in 1984 to join the tutorial team at University College. In addition to Derek Stacey, Patrick worked with many others who had, or went on to have, impressive careers in the Department of Physics at Oxford: Patrick Sandars, Kem Woodgate, Keith Burnett, Christopher Palmer, Christopher Foot, Joshua Silver and David Lucas, as well as many others in other physics departments worldwide.

Over his career, Patrick published papers on the spectroscopy of atomic transitions of nearly a quarter of the atoms in the periodic table. He and his group also studied muonium (an artificial atom formed from an anti-muon and an electron) which allows very precise tests of QED predictions since this system avoids obscuring effects of the nucleus. This work was published in highly ranked journals, including Nature and Physical Review Letters.

Patrick’s expertise in high resolution spectroscopy led naturally to a long and fruitful collaboration with Patrick Gill, Helen Margolis and others at the National Physical Laboratory, including the co-supervision of many graduate students working on the development of atomic clocks using neutral atoms and ions. Most recently, he was co-author of a paper on a strontium optical lattice clock with an uncertainty as small as ten parts in a billion billion.

Patrick was dedicated to the development of the next generation of physicists; at Univ he was a renowned tutor of the first-year physics course, and in the department he was Head of Graduate Studies for many years until his retirement in 2016.

Patrick will be remembered as a superb physicist, who did work of real significance in the field, and yet was kind and alert to the needs of those around him. He also had a wonderful sense of humour that contributed much to life in the department. He will be missed by all those who knew and worked with him.

Memorial service

A memorial service will take place in the College Chapel at 2pm on Saturday 17 February 2024. All are warmly invited to attend. The service will be followed by refreshments at 3pm. If you plan to come please confirm your attendance by 3 February 2024 via this form.

Patrick’s family invites anyone who may wish to make a donation in Patrick’s memory to give to UCARE, an Oxford-based Urology cancer research and education charity, which is currently fundraising for a Research Nurse at the Churchill Hospital. Donations may be made via