Geoffrey Ivan Opat AO
Professor Geoffrey Opat was the Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Melbourne when he died suddenly in March 2002. He had an enthusiasm for teaching physics at all levels, from kindergarten to postgraduate. His enormously creative ideas in many different areas were the hallmarks of a remarkable career in research and in service to the physics profession and to education in Victoria, in Australia and internationally.
Geoffrey was awarded the Dux of Brighton Grammar School in 1953.
On completing his PhD at the University of Melbourne Geoffrey was a Fullbright Fellow USA (1961 to 1964) during which time he was Research Associate in Theoretical Physics at the University of Pennsylvania. He was also a Research Fellow in the UK (1970 to 1971) at the Rutherford High Energy Laboratory. Ultimately Geoffrey returned to the University of Melbourne in the role of Professor of Experimental Physics in 1973.
Throughout his career Geoffrey held many roles in Australia and abroad including Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne and Head of the School of Physics. Also, he was a member of the Physics Standing Committee of the Universities and School Examinations Board for several decades – fighting, often with a lone voice, for maintaining rigorous standards.
Geoffrey would look for opportunities to offer enrichment lectures and activities for students and teachers organising conferences, lecture series, etc. His breadth as a scholar was widely recognised and led to his advice being sought nationally and internationally.
Another of Geoffrey’s passions was to invent new gadgets – some of which were more useful than others. For example, he invented the ‘rubbery ruler’ in 1995 which led to worldwide patents and an R&D 100 Award.
In recognition of his boundlessly creative ideas, Geoffrey was invited to become a Board Member of the Museum of Victoria and to chair its Research Committee. He also chaired the Research Committee of the Victorian College of the Arts. He loved the opera and was a keen ‘bathroom tenor’.
On Australia Day 2002 Geoffrey was appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia for services to scientific research, theoretical and experimental physics; support for the College of the Arts & Museum of Victoria.
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