Bill Trowbridge obituary

Other lives: Scientist with an important input to the development of mobile phones and MRI scanners

My father, Bill Trowbridge, who has died aged 89, was a pioneer and leader in the field of computational electromagnetics. He was instrumental in the development of computer-based simulation tools used in the creation of such electromagnetic devices as mobile phones and MRI scanners. He founded the International Compumag conference series in 1976 and the Oxford-based company Vector Fields in 1984. He was made an OBE for services to science in 1993.

Bill was born in Totton, Hampshire, to Maurice Trowbridge, the owner of a dairy business, and his wife, Constance (nee Sherrell), a cook. He retained vivid memories of his wartime childhood in Lymington. Educated at Brockenhurst grammar school and HMS Conway naval training school (1946-48), he spent the first eight years of his working life in the merchant navy. When not yet 20, he was diagnosed with malaria and spent months in hospital in Buenos Aires. During that time he wrote a play. He posted the manuscript to a friend, but the play was lost.

While on leave back in the UK, he met Rita Creed at Crewkerne fair, Somerset. After their marriage in 1954, Bill decided to leave the sea. He was taken on as an assistant at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, also known as Harwell Laboratory, in Oxfordshire. Rita, a primary school teacher, supported Bill while he studied part-time to obtain a degree from the University of London.

Bill was rapidly promoted, and from 1971 headed the Computing Applications Group at Rutherford Laboratory, now Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. He held visiting professorships at Imperial College London, King’s College London and the University of Genoa in Italy, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Graz in Austria.

Bill formed many close friendships with colleagues, not only in Europe but also in the Americas and China, where he gave a series of lectures in 1984. He had a special ability to support others. He published widely on electromagnetics. In later life he wrote two volumes of autobiography.

Throughout his life Bill had a passion for the arts, and loved the music of Elgar and Rameau. Leave in London, between ships, was mostly spent at the theatre.

Rita died in 2007. Bill is survived by his two children, Dinah and me, and by his brother, David.

Simon Trowbridge

The GuardianTramp

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