In Memory of Dennis Rosen

With great respect and fond memory, I recount my former mentor and head of department at Chelsea (now King’s College, London)

Dennis Rosen was a scientist who took the trouble to be a well-rounded man. A biophysicist who specialised during the latter stages of his career in pattern recognition, he was as curious about the application of this technique in science and medicine as in fine art and painting. His love of theatre, music and history were deep rooted parts of his life that supplemented his scientific activities. From his early days as a cancer researcher at the Chester Beatty Institute right until his death, Dennis read and wrote widely.

His greatest achievements were as a teacher and his patience and kindness were devoted to many generations of London University students and post-graduates at Chelsea, Birkbeck and University Colleges. Dennis was both frustrated and motivated by the tendency for many scientists to dismiss the arts and overlook the moral dimensions of science and by the way artists perceive a lack of aesthetic, moral or artistic dimensions to science. For his overseas students, an introduction to London’s theatres and art galleries was as important a part of their education as supervision of their research. He exhibited pictures purchased from Sotheby’s art auctions on laboratory walls and developed exhibitions of art on scientific themes.
He always incorporated arts themes into the programmes he developed for the British Association National Science Week, and he found many other ways to promote debate about science and the arts amongst friends, colleagues and members of the public.

During his semi-retirement he wrote London Science with his wife Sylvia. The book provides a comprehensive guide to London’s scientific landmarks and is also a tour of many of the places in the city where art impinges on science. It was a typically whimsical study – rigorously researched yet outside the mainstream of scientific scholarship but widely admired by scientists and Londoners alike.

Personal details

Born in 1928 to Polish Immigrant parents, Dennis was educated at Owen’s School – an establishment that spawned many talented second-generation immigrants at that time.
He read Mathematics at Pembroke College, Cambridge. After graduating, he developed his career in research and teaching – initially at the Chester Beaty Cancer Research Institute and subsequently in Chelsea, Birkbeck and University Colleges.

Dennis spent most of his life in London – interrupted only by a year as an evacuee in Bedford and sabbatical periods in Upsaala, Sweden, Leiden in Holland and Maryland, USA. London provided ample access to the theatres, concert halls galleries and libraries which were every bit as important to Dennis as the research which filled his working life. A major force in Dennis’s life was his frustration at the public’s fear and misunderstanding of science. He was committed
to de-mystifying science and encouraging a wider understanding of both its principles and its potential social and political consequences. In the early 1980s he used a period as a science feature writer for the Daily Mirror to provide simple descriptions of complex technologies to a large lay audience. His description of the new medical technique of lithotripsy attracted the largest-ever post-bag for the features department!

Throughout his life, Dennis contributed to his local area via the Labour party and towards the end of his life, he threw himself into work with the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institute. His devotion to the local area and to science and education were typical of the man. The many people who will miss him deeply are equally likely to come from the neighbourhood,from education in the shape of former students, and from the science community itself. Although he did not win any major scientific awards, he was widely known and respected in the UK scientific community for his integrity,sound advice and availability as a sounding board for new ideas. Those who will miss him most are his family. He married his wife Sylvia in 1954 and she died in May 2000. They had three children and three grandchildren. Dennis spent part of his period of semi-retirement introducing his grandchildren to art and literature and encouraging them to understand the inter-relationships between science, art, philosophy and politics.

Copyright © 2001-2005 The Dennis Rosen Memorial Trust. All rights reserved.

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