Andrew Breen (1964-2011)

Dr Andrew Breen Andy first came to Aberystwyth in 1982 to take a degree in Physics with Planetary and Space Physics.  He stood out from the crowd, with his Kajagoogoo mullet haircut and chiselled features.  Like many, he fell in love with Aberystwyth, relishing the easy informality of the town.

After his BSc, he took the opportunity to continue in Aberystwyth for a PhD to study ionospheric physics.  This PhD was the start of his professional partnership with the late Professor Phil Williams, in whom he found the perfect match for his intellect, his energy, his enthusiasm and amiable eccentricity.

Following his PhD he set off on a post-doctoral career starting in Southampton in 1990, returning to Aberystwyth in 1992, to work as a post-doc for five years before spending a year at the prestigious Max-Planck Institute for Aeronomy.

The pull of Aberystwyth became too much and he returned, first for a Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council Advanced Research Fellowship and then, in 2001, a lectureship followed in 2006 by promotion to Senior Lecturer.

Andy enjoyed his teaching, taking real pleasure in watching his students grow and flourish.  He had a love of technology, from steam trains to the latest electronic gadgets; he loved to play with them, discover exactly how they worked and how he could get the most from them.

When his illness weakened his voice, instead of giving up teaching, Andy turned to technology, pioneering the use at Aberystwyth of voice amplification together with video and MP3 recordings of his lectures.  This work was recognised in 2006 with an Excellence in Teaching Award.

He was a kind and considerate person with an easy going nature, but no one would confuse this nature with a laissez-faire attitude.  Andy had very firm ideas on fairness and decency and there would be a point where his sensibilities were offended, usually signalled with an abrupt “No!” and a rolling of the eyes.

He would rail against injustice, turning his razor sharp wit to ridicule and expose those who used positions of power or religious fundamentalism to oppress others.  Andy was an atheist; he found enough wonder and mystery in the universe without the need to invoke supernatural beings to explain it.

Above all, Andy was a good friend to many.  He was extremely good to talk to, interested in anything interesting.  He used to frequently drop by my office to chat, sometimes about science, sometimes about students or departmental gossip, sometimes about some gem he’d found on the internet and wanted to share and sometimes just because he needed a rest after walking down the corridor.

A few months ago, we met walking across the car park and he thanked me for listening to him and apologised for taking my time.  Oh Andy, it was always more fun talking to you than whatever work I should have been doing, you were never a burden.

Dr Andrew Breen died on 9 December 2011, age 47.

David Langstaff