Belfast Royal Academy - founded 1785


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The School community is deeply saddened to hear news of the death on Friday 9th November of former pupil Professor James Stirling. Prior to his retirement in June 2018, Professor Stirling was the first ever Provost in Imperial College, London and he was a great friend of the Academy – always interested in current issues and the achievements of pupils. He last spoke at the Former Pupils’ Association Dinner in London in March 2018 and delivered a speech in the School Assembly Hall as part of the 225th anniversary celebrations. He was generous in the time that he so willingly gave to his alma mater and gracious in all of his dealings with pupils and staff. James Stirling joined Imperial following a distinguished academic career, where his work in theoretical particle physics resulted in more than 300 research papers, including some of the most highly cited of all time in the physical sciences.

Professor Stirling’s work in quantum chromodynamics has been central to discoveries in physics and many of his calculational techniques have now been adopted as standard practice. His groundbreaking work in particle physics phenomenology led to his involvement in the MSTW collaboration studying the ‘parton’ structure of the proton with the Large Hadron Collider.

After a double-first and a distinction in Part III of the mathematical Tripos at Peterhouse, he took a PhD in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge.

Professor Stirling’s research career included stints in the United States, at CERN, and, holding a series of academic and leadership roles, at the Universities of Cambridge – including as Jacksonian Chair of Natural Philosophy – and Durham, as the first Director of the Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology (IPPP).

He led the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, home to some 29 Nobel laureates since its founding in 1874, before joining Imperial as the College’s first ever Provost in 2013, retiring in 2018.

On 17th October 2018, he received an honorary degree from Imperial College during Commemoration Day. He received Imperial’s highest honour for his outstanding contributions to physics and to the College, following his retirement in the summer.

He died peacefully in Durham surrounded by his family. Our sincere condolences go to his wife Paula, also a former Belfast Royal Academy pupil, his children and grandchildren.

Hilary Woods

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