Dens Milne, who was a vital part of the Physics World team for more than 25 years, died unexpectedly after a short illness on 16 July 2023 aged 56. A wonderful colleague, Dens served for two decades as the magazine’s production editor, where she interacted with countless readers and authors. For the last seven years, she was lead product and content manager, helping to rebuild the Physics World website, spearheading Physics World Jobs, and – most recently – overseeing the creation of a new digital version of the magazine.
Born on 31 May 1967, Dens grew up in Fife, Scotland, and gained a degree in applied physics from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. She joined IOP Publishing straight out of university in 1990, serving initially in the journals-production department, helping to publish scientific research papers. Dens also worked on the production of the major, three-volume reference book Twentieth Century Physics, whose editors included the eminent condensed-matter physicist Brian Pippard.
It wasn’t until 1996 that I got to know Dens when she joined IOP Publishing’s magazines department as production editor on Physics World. I was to work closely alongside Dens during her entire time in that role, which saw her responsible for everything from copy-checking, creating layouts and correcting proofs to handling photos, graphics and multimedia – not to mention liaising with printers and suppliers. It was a role that played to her strengths: Dens was efficient, hard-working, conscientious and thorough, as well as being questioning, detailed, demanding and accurate.
Dens was always completely no-nonsense, never afraid to point out woolly thinking, often with a withering one-liner delivered in her trademark Scottish burr. New editors to the team would dread being summoned for “a chat” about their first article, with Dens brandishing a print-out covered liberally in red ink as typos, waffle and errors were circled and pointed out. Inevitably, though, the baptism of fire was appreciated by staff members who quickly realized that accuracy and rigour are the bedrock for any publication’s trustworthiness with readers. For Dens, getting the thousands of little things right mattered because if you do them properly, then the whole publication can be trusted and believed.
It’s rare these days for anyone to work for a single employer over their entire career, as Dens did. But IOP Publishing, which is a learned-society publisher, suited Dens to the core. She loved ensuring everything was done as efficiently as possible to help the company make money. But equally she knew that IOP Publishing’s profits, 100% of which are gift-aided to the Institute of Physics, help to support the physics community. Work, for Dens, wasn’t about chasing money for the sake of it – it was for the wider good.
As a colleague, Dens was enormously good fun to work with, relishing evenings out or trips away – preferably involving cocktails or drinks. But Dens also had a great knack for spotting if a team-mate was upset or had a problem or if something was up – she had a kind of sixth sense and was always there to support, help, advise, console or just listen. And although she demanded high standards, Dens was a calming influence if a mistake did occasionally creep in. As she’d tell us with a phrase that now has a new poignancy: “Remember, no-one’s died.”
Dens had a great awareness of the wider publishing industry too, keeping an eye on the latest trends, attending media events and seeing what rivals and competitors were up to, which proved vital for her time as Physics World product manager. Only this year, Dens had worked on creating the new jobs board for the American Physical Society in partnership with Physics World. In June Dens travelled to the FIPP World Media Congress in Lisbon: we all expected her to come back buzzing with ideas, but her death was as sudden as it was unexpected.
Dens had a huge impact on IOP Publishing and I’m sure we’ve only realized how big that impact was now she’s gone. In recent weeks, I’ve found myself constantly wondering “What would Dens have said about this?” or “What would Dens’s advice be on that?” And I’m not quite sure how we’re going to replace her, if we ever can. Ewan, her husband, will of course be feeling her loss more than any of us ever can or will.
But I do know that the rules and the plans and the processes Dens put in place are still having a huge influence on how we do things at Physics World – and that they will do so for a long time to come.
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