Biography - David J.C. MacKay

I was born on 22nd April 1967, fifth and youngest child of Donald MacKay and Valerie MacKay. Between then and when I left home for Trinity College, Cambridge in 1985, I ate salted porridge for breakfast every day, went to school, played soccer or rounders (age 5-10) / learnt a lot (age 11-18, at the excellent grammar school in Newcastle under Lyme), and came home to a wonderful dinner.

I played judo, hockey, violin and viola, and rode my bike a lot. I only went to one disco, so I still have a good sense of hearing and my clothes don't smell of beer and cigarettes. And I have no "traditional" social skills.

When I was 18 I represented Britain at the International Physics Olympiad in Yugoslavia and had a great time with the Germans and Canadians.

At Trinity College, Natural Sciences was good fun. I looked after a punt and played croquet and lived in Great Court for a year. In the holidays I climbed mountains in Wales and Scotland. After my finals in Physics I rowed for a couple of weeks, went down four in the First and Third fifth boat, and experienced the May week boatie dinner at Trinity (which was of course in June - which all makes sense to anyone who's been at Cambridge).

I made a difficult choice between going to Caltech and Edinburgh for my PhD. Caltech won. In California I discovered that I cared about green politics and founded Caltech Environmental Task Force. I bought a car (Caltech is in L.A.) and realised that I didn't want to live in a car society. Caltech was a great scientific place, but I wanted to get back to the green spaces of Cambridge as quick as possible.

I was lucky to get a superb postdoc as a research fellow at Darwin College. I bought a house and a number of bicycles, including a Brompton and a tandem.
Playing ultimate at a Darwin / Wolfson sports day
I started playing Ultimate on Jesus Green with a nice bunch of psychologists. After a few years I became a lecturer in the Physics department. In 1999, I was promoted to a Readership in Natural Philosophy, and in 2003 to a Professorship. In 2003 I published a book on Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms (also available free online). In 2008 I published Sustainable Energy - without the hot air (also available free online). In 2009 I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and was appointed Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. In 2013 I was appointed Regius Professor of Engineering in the Cambridge University Engineering Department.

I still eat salted porridge.

How to make porridge

One cup of oats per two persons. Two cups of cold water per cup of oats. A level teaspoon of salt (essential; do not leave this out, otherwise the porridge will taste horrible). No milk at this stage.

Heat in saucepan until it boils, stirring frequently. When it boils, stir continuously and vigorously for exactly one minute. Then turn down the heat and add milk to get desired consistency (note that it'll thicken further, so make it runny). About one and a half or two cups of milk. Stir in the milk and serve.

On birthdays and other special occasions it is permitted to add raisins and or golden syrup. For me, every day is a special occasion. I add a large spoon of golden syrup.


David MacKay <mackay@mrao.cam.ac.uk>
Last modified: Mon Aug 23 14:38:26 2010