Science

Benjamin Abeles obituary


My father, Benjamin Abeles, who has died aged 95, was a renowned physicist whose research led to the technology used to power the Voyager spacecraft. An incredibly hard-working man, he overcame tremendous obstacles in his youth.

Born in Vienna, the youngest of two children of Selma (nee Kronberger), a leather artisan, and Ernst Abeles, a businessmen, Benjamin arrived in the UK from Prague as a child refugee on the Kindertransport organised by Nicholas Winton in 1939. He took odd jobs in London, often living in bomb shelters, until in 1943 he enlisted in 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron of the RAF.

After the second world war he returned to Prague and in 1949 gained a master’s in physics. Then he moved to Israel, where he completed his doctorate in physics. In 1956 he relocated to New Jersey in the US to work for the Radio Corporation of America as a physicist.

Working alongside George D Cody in the 1960s, he developed germanium–silicon alloys that were used in the development of the radioisotope thermoelectric generators used to power spacecraft and probes engaged in long voyages of space exploration. The space vehicles that travel the farthest from Earth are powered by their invention.

In 1958 he met Ann Singer in New York, and they married that year. She died in 2007. After meeting Helen Pierson in Mexico in 2008, he moved back to the UK in 2009 to live with her in Leicester. They married in 2012.

Dad enjoyed exploring the outdoors, and during heavy snowfalls in New Jersey would take out our cross-country skis. I would follow him through the streets, trying to keep up. An avid lover of hiking and mountains, with his beret, decrepit boots and his eternal outsider mentality and humour he was, for me, Charlie Chaplin redux.

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In 1985 we hiked a 15-mile round trip to the top of Longs Peak, a 14,000ft mountain in Estes Park, Colorado. Most people need a few days to acclimatise to the high altitude of Estes, but Dad used his mind to control his body, just as he did to make it through some rough times in Britain during the second world war.

He is survived by Helen, his children, Rebekah, Susan and myself, from his first marriage, his grandchildren, Rachel, Arie and Shalui, and five great-grandchildren.



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