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Tributes paid to Professor Nick Kingsbury

Pictured above: The Trinity Fellows’ Eight, with Nick Kingsbury. 

Trinity Fellows in Engineering pay tribute to their colleague and friend Professor Nick Kingsbury, who died on 11 October 2023.

The Trinity community, and especially the Trinity engineers, will miss our much loved and valued colleague, Professor Nick Kingsbury, who died peacefully in the Arthur Rank Hospice on 11 October 2023. This year was Nick’s fortieth as a Trinity Fellow. Our thoughts are with his wife, Jane, and their children and grandchildren.

Nick received his BA in engineering from King’s College in 1970. He then stayed on to do a PhD, in electrical and information engineering in the Signal Processing Group (SigProc) of the Cambridge University Engineering Department (CUED); he received the degree in 1974. His Supervisor, Professor Peter Rayner, was the founder of the Group.

Nick then went into industry, working for Marconi Space and Defence System in Portsmouth, specialising in digital signal processing (which was hard in those days given the lack of computational resource), with particular applications in advanced communications and radio systems. Nick had many stories from his days in industry; including one project involving deciphering the speech of divers around North Sea oil rigs who were breathing in a lot of helium!

In the early 1980s, Chris Morley, another Trinity Engineering Fellow and also Senior Tutor of Trinity at the time, masterminded a plan to advertise a 12-hour College Lectureship in Engineering, which would come with dedicated lab space in CUED. The plan was attractive enough to entice Nick to apply, and so he was drawn back to academia from industry and became a 12-hour College Lecturer at Trinity in 1983. This was an inspired choice, as very soon afterwards in 1986 Nick became a University Teaching Officer in CUED, moving on to a Readership in 2000 and a Professorship in 2007.

Nick led the Signal Processing Group in CUED from 2006 until his retirement in 2017. A highly-regarded Supervisor and Lecturer, Nick continued supervising at Trinity after retirement until illness forced him to stop.

Academically, Nick was admired throughout the information engineering world, and his many PhD students now work in universities and industry worldwide. Perhaps his proudest academic achievement was the development of the dual tree complex wavelet (DT-CWT) in the early 2000s, which proved to be a powerful tool in image processing and computer vision, where many problems require shift-invariance and directional selectivity, both properties of the DT-CWT. Nick and his students went on to apply the DT-CWT to a range of problems including image retrieval, tracking and object detection.

Nick was honoured for his work by the award of an Honorary Doctorate from the Czech Technical University in Prague. More recently, Nick devoted significant time to sustainability issues. He was an integral part of Centre for Sustainable Road Freight in CUED and an active member of the Trinity Climate Change Working Group (even attending meetings during his illness). Nick was working with others to introduce heat pumps in the College. He also had a hybrid car well before most of us!

The story of Nick’s life would be incomplete without recounting his lifelong enthusiasm for rowing. He rowed for King’s as an undergraduate and was Senior Treasurer of the First & Third Trinity Boat Club – and before that Senior Treasurer of the Trinity Punt Scheme. For more years than we can remember, Nick organised the Fellows’ Eight, which would sit out the cold winter months but re-emerge in spring and enjoy training (and sometimes racing) on the Cam. Nick was unfailingly enthusiastic and persuasive, so much so that the most unwilling Fellows often found themselves sitting in a boat! In recent years, postdocs also came under Nick’s spell and took up rowing with the Fellows’ Eight. The 2012 London Olympics saw Nick don his old King’s rowing blazer (it just about still fitted) and watch, with delight, a Cambridge Engineering undergraduate (doing his project in SigProc) win an Olympic Pairs Bronze Medal.

Nick was loved and respected by all. A fitting tribute to Nick will be a new coxed four, the ‘Nick Kingsbury’, which will be delivered to the Trinity Boathouse soon. Nick was recently delighted to see a photograph of this sleek new boat and we are sorry that he is not here to see it take its first outing on the Cam.

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