A small scrum of journalists gathered in the College main entrance this afternoon to watch Brian May deliver his thesis on "Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud". The 60 year-old Imperial graduate registered to complete his doctorate after befriending an eminent astronomer who encouraged him to do so. He left in 1971 after completing an undergraduate degree in Physics and four years of postgraduate study.
May, who began typing his thesis while on tour with Queen last year, will have to tackle his thesis defence on 23rd August when the examinations committee will decide whether to award his PhD or send it back for corrections. Speaking to BBC London, he said it would be a "very public" failure if he did not get the degree.
In an interview with Live!, May discussed his reasons for coming back, describing it as "an opportunity to tie up a loose end", with the PhD being "unfinished business". He revealed that while some things have changed, such as Mechanical Engineering, but said: "Sometimes I think I blinked and I'm back there ... the Physics building is exactly the same". During his undergraduate days he was a resident of Tizard Hall in (old) Southside. Like many residents he also frequented the Southside Bar, telling Live! it was "sadly gone, it did smell bad though".
Picking up the thesis where he left off does not seem to have been a problem, with topic "[not] too hard to pick up". It was not without its problems, however, as he described a few moments of panic: "I would hit things which I knew I didn't understand at that time, things which I really hated".
The method of producing a thesis has changed dramatically, with hand written theses typed up by a secretary and hand-drawn diagrams. May said he enjoyed the experience of writing up on the computer, as it felt like the work could be "instantly disseminated" and of use to people. Describing himself as a "photoshop addict", he thumbed through the diagrams to illustrate how he had scanned and enhanced his original hand-drawn ones from the early 70s.
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