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Oxford shocked by death of SKA astrophysicist

The University of Oxford is mourning the loss of astrophysics professor Steve Rawlings, found dead at an Oxford address on the evening of Wednesday 11 January.

Rawlings, 50, was a fellow at St Peter’s College and head of the sub-Department of Astrophysics from 2006 to 2010. He was also one of the lead researchers in the international radio astronomy Square Kilometre Array project, which is to be realised in Africa or Australia with EU support.

Thames Valley Police have confirmed that they have released on bail a 49-year-old man arrested on suspicion of murder, reported to be fellow Oxford academic Devinder Sivia.

“A substantial amount of information is already in the public domain and we can confirm that the two individuals involved have been friends for over thirty years,” said Deputy Superintendent of Thames Valley Police, Rob Mason, in a statement on 13 January.

Rawlings and Sivia co-wrote a book “Foundations of Science Mathematics”, published in 1999.

“I would emphasise that the police are investigating all potential circumstances that could have led to his death,” added Mason. “We are mindful that ultimately the death may be a matter for a coroner’s inquest rather than a criminal court and I would ask for patience from both the media and the public while we continue our investigation.”

A coroner is a UK government official who is specially trained to investigate human deaths, especially if the circumstances of death are not clear.

Police were called to a Southmoor property, reportedly owned by Sivia, by a neighbour who reported that there had been an incident within the property on 11 January. A post-mortem on 12 January, carried out to establish the cause of death, was inconclusive and police said further tests would be carried out.

Mason added that the police were liaising closely with the university.

Vice-chancellor of Oxford, Andrew Hamilton, said the university had been profoundly saddened and shocked by the “tragic and untimely death” of Rawlings. “Our thoughts are with his family and friends,” he added.

St Peter’s College called Rawlings a “much liked and admired tutor and colleague within the college and will be greatly missed”.

Rawlings carried out his PhD and post-doctoral work at the University of Cambridge, before moving to St Peter’s College, Oxford, in 1992 where became a fellow in 1994. An observational cosmologist, Rawlings was later made head of Oxford’s sub-Department of Astrophysics and was most recently involved with the Atacama Large Millimetre Array, under construction in Chile.