Charles Bruce

Charles Bruce Obituary

MA., DSc., FIEE., FInstP.

ERA regret to announce the death of Dr C E R Bruce on 30 December 1979.

Dr Bruce joined ERA in 1924 after a distinguished career at Edinburgh University. His task was to analyse the experimental data on oil circuit-breaker operation emerging from the pioneer short-circuit testing laboratory at Carville. He attacked this with great energy, making immense contributions to the early development of arc physics. These, in turn, influenced substantially the fortunes of the electrical industry through the revolution in circuit-breaker technology led by ERA in the thirties. Interest in arc physics led to a study of the lightning discharge, where again his elucidation of its mechanisms, set out in papers including one in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, made possible significant improvements in procedures for protection against lightning.

Similarity between quantities he had calculated from first principles in his work on lightning, and values deduced from astrophysical observations, led Charles Bruce to the conclusion that most astrophysical phenomena could be interpreted as the results of electrical discharges on the cosmic scale. The idea totally captured his imagination, and he developed it with great vigour in a series of about fifty publications, being greatly encouraged in this work by two highly respected astrophysicists, Chapman at Oxford and Stratton at Cambridge. He painted with a large brush in a tremendous field ranging from the magnetics of solar flares to the processes of stellar and galactic evolution, and his influence on astrophysical thinking should not be underestimated.

Bruce was a particularly lucid writer -- a quality for which he received the greatly prized award of the Silver Pen from the Franklin Institute. He had great energy and not a little pugnacity, vigorously attacking established reputations when he thought their ideas wrong. He was held in great esteem by his colleagues on account both of his charming and enthusiastic personality and his unusual capacity for adventurous thought.