‘An inspiration to all those who knew him’: Professor Sir David MacKay FRS

Tributes have been paid to the Regius Professor of Engineering at Cambridge, Honorary Fellow of Trinity and Fellow of Darwin College, Sir David MacKay FRS, who passed away on 14 April 2016.

Copyright: David Stern
Copyright: David Stern

An alumnus of Trinity, where he studied Natural Sciences, he went on to a PhD in computation and neural systems at the California Institute of Technology.

Professor MacKay made seminal contributions to machine learning and information theory while Professor of Natural Philosophy at the Cavendish Laboratory.

He later turned his attention to energy and sustainability, writing and publishing the influential book, Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air. He was appointed Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (2009-2014) and the inaugural Regius Professor of Engineering at Cambridge in 2013. Professor MacKay was knighted in 2016 ‘for services to Scientific Advice in Government and Science Outreach.’

Royal Society Research Professor and Professor of Engineering at Cambridge, Daniel Wolpert, who is also a Fellow of Trinity, said Professor MacKay was ‘an inspiration to all those who knew him.’

David was an incredible polymath, passionate about research, teaching and the positive impact that science can have on society. His work covered fundamental topics in machine learning as well its application to assistive technology for those with movement disorders. He transformed the sustainable energy debate with his incisive book and time in government.

Trinity Fellow and former Master of the College, Lord Rees, paid tribute to ‘a genuine idealist:’

David’s early death, following an illness that he chronicled on his blog with great courage, is devastating for his wife and young children. And it is a huge loss to academia – indeed to public policy generally. His world-leading research was exceptional in its range. But equally exceptional was his commitment to engage with students, the public, and the policy world.

He was a genuine idealist, focused on addressing some of the world’s most challenging problems. He would surely have had a huge and benign influence in decades ahead. Those who know him will remember his engaging and enthusiastic personality. And all can look back thankfully on his inspiring legacy.


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