McVittie, George C. (George Cunliffe) (1904-1988) | University of Illinois Archives

Name: McVittie, George C. (George Cunliffe) (1904-1988)

Historical Note:

George Cunliffe McVittie (1904-1988) was professor of astronomy (1952-72), head of the Department of Astronomy (1952-72), and director of the University of Illinois Observatory (1952-72) at the University of Illinois, Urban-Champaign (UIUC). He was a leading British mathematician and cosmologist renowned for his contributions to the fields of astronomy and meteorology.

McVittie was born to British parents in Smyrna, Turkey, on June 5, 1904. He earned a master's degree in mathematics and physics at the University of Edinburgh in 1927 and a PhD in astronomy from Christ's College, Cambridge University in 1930, specializing in unified field theories. He held faculty positions at the University of Leeds (1930-33), University of Edinburgh (1933/34), University of Liverpool (1934-6), King's College, University of London (1936-48), and Queen Mary College, London (1948-52). During WWII, he established and directed the meteorological section at Bletchley Park, which monitored weather conditions in enemy territory by deciphering coded weather forecasts. In 1952, McVittie joined the astronomy faculty at UIUC. During his tenure, he turned the department into one of the leading in the nation. He oversaw the departmental growth; supported research in radio astronomy; and spearheaded the construction of the Vermillion River Radio Observatory (1962). Over the course of his career, McVittie's research interests included unified field theories, general relativity, and hydrodynamics and gas dynamics. His publications include Cosmological Theory (1937), General Relativity and Cosmology (1956), and Fact and Theory in Cosmology (1961).

After retiring from UIUC in 1972, McVittie was appointed to an honorary professorship (1972-88) at the University of Kent, which he held for the rest of his life. He was widely recognized during his career, becoming fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (1933); fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1943); officer to the Order of the British Empire, O.B.E. (1946); and Guggenheim fellow (1962 and 1970). He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Kent in 1985.

McVittie married Mildred Bond Strong (1906-1985) in 1934. He died in Kent, England, in 1988.


MacCallum, MAH. "George Cunliffe McVittie (1904-1988)," in Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 30 (1989): 119â??122. Accessed online, April 23, 2020,

Wikipedia, s.v. "George C. McVittie," accessed April 23, 2020,

"Oral Histories: George McVittie," 1978, American Institute of Physics (AIP), accessed January 20, 2021,

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