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Awards, Medals and Prizes

Winners of the 2013 awards, medals and prizes - full details

On Friday 11 January the Royal Astronomical Society announced the recipients of the Society’s medals and awards for 2013. The prizes honour individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to astronomy (here designated ‘A’) and geophysics (‘G’) and will be presented at the 2013 National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2013) to be held in St Andrews, Scotland, in July.

Professor David Southwood, President of the Royal Astronomical Society, congratulated the winners: “It gives me great pleasure to announce these medals and awards, prizes that recognise the contributions made by astronomers and geophysicists both in the UK and around the world. The recipients encompass long-established researchers and those just starting out in their careers, whose work ranges from attempting to understand the processes that shape the Earth to developing models that describe the evolution of the Universe. My congratulations to everyone.”

 

Gold Medal (A)

sgoldfrontThe Gold MedalThe Society’s highest honour is the Gold Medal, one of which is available for award annually for extraordinary lifetime achievement in astronomy and another for the same in geophysics.

Roger Blandford, Luke Blossom Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, Stanford University is awarded the Gold Medal on the basis of his varied and inspirational contributions to theoretical astrophysics, as well as his service to the astrophysics research community at an international level.

Prof. Blandford is widely regarded as the outstanding all-round theoretical astrophysicist of his generation – a real intellectual leader and inspiration. His early work focussed on relativistic astrophysics and high-energy processes in the centres (nuclei) of galaxies. In the 1970s he did pioneering work on and helped to lay the basis for what is now the conventional model of the nature of cosmic jets. He also made key contributions to the study of relativistic effects in the compact remnants of massive stars (neutron stars) and close binary star systems and on the extraction of energy from black holes.

Remaining at the forefront of research throughout his career, Prof. Blandford has become a leader in the analysis of gravitational lensing, an important tool for probing the nature of the as yet unidentified dark matter found throughout the universe.

Prof. Blandford has achieved an international reputation not only for his original research, but also through the esteem in which his advice is held. Because of his dedication and personal qualities, he has therefore been involved in large numbers of advisory boards and committees, including working as the overall Chair of the most recent (2010) US Decadal Survey.

 

Gold Medal (G)

Professor Chris Chapman of Schlumberger Gould Research is the 2013 recipient of the RAS Gold medal in Geophysics for outstanding personal and collaborative research in geophysics. This award recognizes the numerous seminal contributions to theoretical, computational and interpretational methods of seismology made by Prof. Chapman.

For the past 40 years, Prof. Chapman has been one of the world’s leading theoretical seismologists. His early papers are still standard reading for young seismologists and his software is used widely, to the point where even subroutine names are well known. A sequence of influential papers on wave propagation in layered media led to the WKBJ seismogram algorithm, and the Maslov-Chapman seismogram, both of which are extensions of ray theory that describes the propagation of waves and underpins modern exploration geophysics. This work also led to a formal description of full-waveform inversion, the technique of transforming seismic data into a description of the rock properties in a gas or oil field.

Prof. Chapman became a Scientific Advisor at Schlumberger Cambridge Research (now Schlumberger Gould Research) in 1991. In this role his guiding contributions to the development of seismic modelling, from fundamental theory to efficient implementation in code, have significantly helped the company into a leading position in exploration seismology. He has 5 patents and among his other distinctions are a Fellowship of the American Geophysical Union and editorships of numerous high-impact journals. Prof. Chapman has also mentored many young seismologists who have gone on to senior positions in both academia and industry.

 

Eddington Medal (A)

seddingtonThe Eddington MedalThe Eddington Medal is awarded for investigations of outstanding merit in astrophysics and in 2013 is awarded to Professor James Binney from the University of Oxford, in recognition of his fundamental and enduring contributions to galactic astrophysics. Prof. Binney’s research has delivered critical and influential insights into the roles of rotation and the range of movement of stars in the flattening of elliptical galaxies; the modelling and consequences of cooling of material in clusters of galaxies; the use of the motion of local stars to infer the evolution of the Milky Way Galaxy; the presence of bulges and warps in galaxies; modelling of the mass of galaxies; and the flow of material onto galaxies.

The rigour of Prof. Binney’s approach to science, the skill with which he combines mathematical analysis, numerical simulation, physical insight and observational constraints, and his ability both to generate novel and exciting ideas, and to recognise when an idea may need to be abandoned, have combined to make him one of the leading theorists of his generation, and a truly worthy recipient of the Eddington Medal.

 

Price Medal (G)

spriceThe Price MedalThe Price Medal is awarded for investigations of outstanding merit in solid earth geophysics, oceanography or planetary sciences.

For 2013 the Medal goes to Professor Kathryn Whaler of the University of Edinburgh for her distinguished career in geomagnetism and international leadership in geophysics. Her research has treated all aspects of the geomagnetic field, from the core, and its associated flow, through its passage through the mantle to the Earth’s surface.

Prof. Whaler began her career as a theoretical geophysicist, addressing fundamental questions about the stratification of the Earth’s outer core and its influence on the geodynamo that generates the Earth’s magnetic field. Much of her work has involved mapping fluid flow at the top of Earth’s core. Her early work laid the foundation of work to determine the Earth’s magnetic field at the core-mantle boundary.

This early research has continued into the era of satellite data, with detailed studies of the magnetisation of the terrestrial crust and upper mantle, prediction of the geomagnetic field for future purposes, and the magnetic field of Mars. Many of these studies contain, and rely on, novel theoretical developments. She has led several successful multi-disciplinary field campaigns in Africa, the latest producing interesting results from the Afar region in Ethiopia.

Prof. Whaler participates to a quite staggering extent in the life of the international geomagnetic community (indeed the whole geophysical community) through her intellectual input and leadership in professional societies and other public service roles. She was President of the RAS (2004‐2006), only the third woman (and first among solid Earth geophysicists) to hold the post, and was the first woman to be elected to a chair in Geophysics in the UK. She is currently President of the International Association of Geomagnetism and Aeronomy (IAGA).

 

Herschel Medal (A)

sherschelThe Herschel MedalThe 2013 Herschel Medal, which recognises investigations of outstanding merit in observational astrophysics, is awarded to Michael Kramer, Professor of Astrophysics at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at the University of Manchester and Director of the Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy in Bonn.

Prof. Kramer has quickly developed a reputation as an international leader in the field of observational pulsar astronomy. His great strength is his ability to break new ground, and he has an impressive number of achievements to his name. These include the first study of pulsars (compact remnants of massive stars that rotate rapidly and emit regular pulses of radiation) at mm- wavelengths (the part of the radio spectrum just beyond infrared), the first detection of geodetic precession (an effect of the curvature of spacetime predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity) and the first detection of ionised gas in a globular star cluster. He also played a central role in the discovery of the first and only double pulsar system – ranked by Science as the 6th most important scientific discovery of the year. With this pulsar, Prof. Kramer produced the most stringent tests of general relativity in strong gravitational fields.

He had a major part in the discovery of transient radio neutron stars which may outnumber pulsars by a factor of 4:1. Currently Prof. Kramer is leading the search for long-wavelength gravitational waves. This project is carrying out extremely accurate timings of pulsars across the sky over a decade to measure the movement of the Earth caused by gravitational waves. Finally, he has pioneered the use of volunteer computing, enlisting the help of the public in the discovery of pulsars. It is difficult to think of an astronomer who has had as much influence on the blossoming of pulsar astronomy and its integration into the rest of astrophysics in the last 20 years as Prof. Kramer.

 

Jackson-Gwilt Medal (A)

sjackson-gwiltThe Jackson-Gwilt MedalThe Jackson-Gwilt Medal is awarded for the invention, improvement or development of astronomical instrumentation or techniques; for achievement in observational astronomy; or for achievement in research in the history of astronomy. For his many contributions to the development of novel astronomical instrumentation and his pioneering work on high-speed photometry, Professor Vikram Dhillon of the University of Sheffield is awarded the Jackson-Gwilt medal.

Prof. Dhillon’s research interests lie in the area of compact objects, such as white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes, both isolated and in binary systems. A running theme throughout his research career has been the use of innovative techniques to push the observational boundaries further than was possible before.

A key property of compact objects is their short-term variability, often on timescales of the order of seconds and less. However, until recently, this facet of astrophysics had not been fully explored. Prof. Dhillon has endeavoured to rectify this, and to address the challenges of observations on these timescales with his development and operation of the ULTRACAM instrument. This is a high-speed camera that can obtain simultaneous observations in three different band-passes at an extremely high rate. It has been used as a visitor instrument on several world-leading telescopes for a total of close to one full year over the past decade. The impact of the instrument has been enormous: it has produced ground breaking papers covering fields as diverse as outer Solar System objects, extra-solar planets, brown dwarfs, interacting binaries, white dwarfs and pulsars.

Prof. Dhillon oversaw the design, construction of the instrument, continues its operation, and provides support to observers to this date. He continues to innovate and has moved on to areas such as high-speed spectroscopy and robotic telescopes.

 

Chapman Medal (G)

schapmanThe Chapman MedalProfessor Steve Milan of the University of Leicester is awarded the Chapman Medal, which recognises investigations of outstanding merit in solar-terrestrial physics.

Prof. Milan is a prolific scientist who has used observations of the Earth’s ionosphere and aurorae to investigate the rich variety of responses of the Earth’s invisible magnetosphere to ever-changing solar wind conditions. In a series of influential papers, he and his collaborators have set out some of the most convincing evidence to date for the existence of the solar wind driven magnetic reconnection cycle proposed originally by Prof. Jim Dungey in 1961.

For example, he has tested predictions of Dungey’s model using ground-based ionospheric radars to study the motion of the terrestrial magnetic field (magnetosphere) and by using spacecraft auroral images to reveal how it responds to changes in the orientation of the interplanetary magnetic field. On the global scale, he has analysed satellite images of aurorae to measure the properties of the magnetosphere. Further analysis taking account of solar wind conditions enabled him to quantitatively examine how the dayside and nightside of the magnetosphere vary independently.

Prof. Milan was the natural choice for the role of leader of a European Space Agency Science Study Team set up to examine the scientific value of the proposed KuaFu-B dual-spacecraft global auroral imaging mission.

Professor Milan is one of the outstanding solar-terrestrial scientists of his generation, and he is awarded the RAS Chapman medal in recognition of his important and influential contributions to solar-terrestrial physics.

 

Fowler Prizes

Available for award annually, the Fowler Prizes are for individuals who have made a particularly noteworthy contribution to the astronomical and geophysical sciences at an early stage of their research career.

Fowler Prize (A)

Dr Mark Swinbank of the University of Durham receives the 2013 Fowler Award on the basis of the drive and initiative he has shown in developing new techniques to determine the nature and evolutionary histories of high redshift galaxies seen as they were when the Universe was young. He was awarded his PhD in 2005 and since then has been highly productive, publishing 44 papers in high-impact refereed journals (12 as lead author). His particular contribution has been to couple the new generation of integral field unit (IFU) spectrographs with adaptive optics and to take advantage of the natural magnification of distant galaxies resulting from gravitational lensing. His work has provided some of the most detailed information yet obtained on the motion of and star formation properties of distant galaxies. His world-leading contributions include determining the properties of galaxies at large distances (so far away that light we see from left between 7 and 11.5 billion years ago), including their rotation and the distribution of their star forming regions.

Fowler Prize (G)

Dr Iain Hannah of the University of Glasgow receives the 2013 Fowler Award. Dr Hannah is an outstanding young scientist, who has already made an international impact on our understanding of solar hard X-ray emission on a variety of scales. In particular he has led pioneering studies on the energetics of solar microflares through the interpretation of observations from the RHESSI satellite.

His work displays exceptional breadth, given that he also carried out observational studies of plasma heating of plasmas and the acceleration of electrons in solar flares, as well as computational modelling of these systems.

As part of his research, he developed sophisticated techniques for analysis of small-scale hard-X-ray emission, including automated analysis of 25,000 microflare events, and a new ultra-sensitive mode of RHESSI ‘quiet-Sun’ observing.

 

Winton Capital Awards

The Winton Capital Awards are for research by a Post-Doctoral Fellow in a UK institution no more than 5 years after the completion of a PhD, whose career has shown the most promising development.

Winton Capital Award (A)

Dr Baojiu Li is awarded the 2013 ‘A’ Winton Capital award for his world-leading work on alternative explanations for the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the acceleration in the expansion of our Universe. The standard model based on cold dark matter and dark energy (the so-called Lambda CDM model) is highly unsatisfactory, yet sufficiently developed promising alternatives are thin on the ground.

Dr Li has pioneered the development of simulations to confront several of the most promising new theories with observable quantities such as the distribution of matter. He has authored the only computer code in existence which is able to solve the evolution of structure in modified gravity i.e. where gravity behaves differently to the description put forward by Einstein. This code is being used by many of the leading groups in the field. His thesis won the Michael Penston Prize in 2009, he currently holds a Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) Fellowship, and has now been appointed to the faculty at the University of Durham.

Winton Capital Award (G)

Dr Katherine Joy is awarded the 2013 ‘G’ Winton Capital Award for her pioneering research unravelling the impact history of the inner Solar System through studies of lunar samples, including both lunar meteorites and rocks brought back by the Apollo astronauts. Dr Joy’s personal commitment to this work is clearly evidenced by the research she is undertaking in extreme environments, such as Iceland and Antarctica. Her commitment and scientific prowess has already won her two prestigious post-doctoral fellowships – at Birkbeck College, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston – within 5 years of finishing her PhD obtained at UCL’s Earth Science Department and she now holds a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at the University of Manchester.

Dr Joy’s work combines laboratory chemical analysis of Moon samples with the analysis of spacecraft data, most notably from the ESA Smart-1 mission. Her research has enabled her and colleagues to identify probable fragments of the lunar basin-forming impactors. This now allows the source population of asteroidal impactors in the early Solar System to be better constrained and has led to a number of high-profile publications including a recent paper in Science.

Dr Joy is highly committed to teaching and public outreach, giving large numbers of school and popular talks. She was largely responsible for the development of the scientific case for the international MoonZoo project (http://www.moonzoo.org/) which utilises public participation to analyse high-resolution images of the lunar surface currently being obtained by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. Dr Joy serves as an enthusiastic and proactive Editorial Advisor for the RAS’s journal Astronomy and Geophysics.

 

Group Achievement Award (A)

The SAURON team receive the 2013 RAS ‘A’ Group award.

SAURON is an integral field spectrograph with a 33 x 44 arcseconds field of view (roughly 1/110th x 1/80th degree) that saw first light on the 4.2m William Herschel Telescope in 1999. Although it can be used for other astrophysical investigations, the particular science focus of the team that set up the SAURON project was to understand the evolution of elliptical galaxies by using detailed observations of samples of nearby examples of these objects.

The SAURON initiative combines an impressive and optimised instrument design with the careful use of models and simulations to interpret the results and a high degree of organization across the collaboration. Whereas many previous projects of this type have foundered under the sheer volume of the data and the complexity of the analysis task, the SAURON team has shown impressive efficiency in publishing world-leading science results in a timely manner.

To date, the SAURON team has published over 60 papers that have attracted more than 3500 citations; 8 SAURON-based papers have more than 100 citations. Science highlights include the finding that the warm gas in a substantial fraction of elliptical galaxies must have an external origin; a clear demonstration that young stellar populations are more prevalent in lower mass galaxies, more rapidly rotating elliptical galaxies and a fundamental revision of the galaxy classification scheme, based on a comparison between the movement of stars in galaxies and their shapes.

 

Group Achievement Award (G)

The UK MHD Consortium, led by Prof. Alan Hood, receives the 2013 RAS ‘G’ Group Achievement award.

The Consortium, which has nodes located in St. Andrews, Warwick and Leeds, has successfully developed and promoted the facility and tools to carry out large-scale magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) simulations in the UK, and has worked to expand the UK parallel computing user base including by training the next generation of researchers.

Formed in 1996 the consortium has users in 15 UK universities and members of the consortium work on a broad range of topics, including simulations of the solar and terrestrial dynamos, MHD turbulence and plasmas. The Consortium’s strong grouping of skilled researchers has led to the development and use of common approaches to computing practice, leading to substantially greater achievements than would have resulted from individual efforts. The deployment by the MHD Consortium of high performance massively parallel computing systems in the UK and the coordinated development of computer codes and related techniques has been the key to success in this difficult field.

The Consortium has been extremely productive scientifically, with over 250 publications using one of the 3 cluster nodes since 2006 alone. The research, which underpins the UK’s leading position in computational MHD, could not have been undertaken without the resources put in place and developed by the UK MHD Consortium.

 

Service Award

This award is to honour any individual who, through outstanding or exceptional work, has promoted, facilitated or encouraged the sciences of astronomy, geophysics, or solar-system sciences and developed their role in the life of the nation, often beyond the requirements of his or her paid position.

The 2013 RAS Service Award is given to Professor Mike Hapgood, Head of the Space Environment at RAL Space and a visiting professor at Lancaster University. Prof. Hapgood is an internationally recognised expert in space weather, with a deep interest in understanding how the science links to practical impacts.

Over the past decade he has led several major ESA space weather studies and served as chair of ESA's Space Weather Working Team (2006-2009). In the latter role he led European lobbying actions that supported the inclusion of space weather in the 2010 Framework 7 call. He also has good links with US experts and has played a leading role in organising a recent series of UK-US space weather workshops that have promoted efforts to coordinate space weather research, infrastructure and policy.

Since 2010 he has chaired the Space Environment Impacts Expert Group that advises government bodies on the risks that extreme space weather poses to our country. His work with Lloyds insurance led to the publication that has raised awareness of the wider impact of space weather on business activities. Over the past year, Prof. Hapgood has been actively leading the preparation of a UK Space Weather Strategy. He also has a long involvement in the Royal Astronomical Society (where he was secretary 1998-2008 and vice-president 2008-2010) and is the current (2008-2013) chair of MIST, the community group that works to coordinate the activities of the UK solar-terrestrial physics community and that is closely linked with the RAS.

In summary, Prof. Hapgood’s activities on behalf of the UK Solar-Terrestrial Physics community have not only helped to establish space weather firmly on the national agenda, a situation reflected by its recent inclusion in the UK’s National Risk Register, but have also represented a vital contribution to stabilising the community after a period of considerable funding turbulence, via his role in establishing and chairing the MIST Council.

 

Patrick Moore Medal

Dr Bernie Tedd, Head of Physics at King Edward High School for Girls in Birmingham, has won the 2013 Royal Astronomical Society Patrick Moore Medal in recognition of his outstanding work in astronomy education. The Medal, named after the late Sir Patrick Moore, who did so much to bring astronomy to the public, will be presented at the National Astronomy Meeting to take place in St Andrews, Scotland, in July.

Dr Tedd has worked as a physics teacher for 20 years and throughout that time has exploited astronomy as an aspect of science that inspires school pupils and the wider public alike. His colleagues describe him as unfailingly enthusiastic and tireless in his teaching.

Within his school, he introduced the subject to Year Seven (age 11-12) pupils, firing their interest with models, videos and a trip to Mars (via the Challenger Centre at the National Space Centre in Leicester). He teaches the GCSE Astronomy course at lunchtimes and in after school slots to pupils in Years Nine, Ten and Eleven (age 13-16). This year 12 pupils achieved six A and six A* grades between them. Another 40 pupils are working towards the 2013 examinations and the course is now being opened to an adjacent school.

This work extends well beyond his school. Dr Tedd runs star parties open to pupils, families and friends, sometimes linking this with the Astronomy Society at Birmingham University. For the Transit of Venus in June this year, he set up a solar reflector and a telescope in the school car park. Despite poor weather forecasts, this brought 150 visitors to the site at 5.30 am.

Dr Tedd takes pupils to and from other European schools as part of the British Council 'Comenius' project (see http://www.britishcouncil.org/comenius.htm) where they work on larger astronomical projects. Last March 50 pupils engaged in this work travelled to Birmingham from Romania, Rome and France.

 

Named Lectures

The Society invites distinguished speakers to give its major ‘named’ lectures.

Darwin Lecturer (A)

The George Darwin lecture is given annually, on a topic in astronomy, cosmology or astroparticle physics. In 2013 Professor Eline Tolstoy of Groningen University in the Netherlands will give this lecture, in recognition of her outstanding work in the field of galactic archaeology.

Harold Jeffreys Lecturer (G)

The Harold Jeffreys Lecture is given annually on a topic in solid Earth geophysics.

In 2013 this will be given by Professor Bob White of the University of Cambridge. The award recognizes his outstanding record of research and leadership in a career that has focused on the use of state-of-the-art seismic data to investigate the structure of those parts of the earth’s crust formed by melting of the mantle at mid-ocean ridges, continental rifts and hot spots.

Dungey Lecturer (G)

Professor Peter Cargill of Imperial College London and the University of St Andrews will give the first RAS James Dungey lecture, which celebrates Prof. Dungey's legacy as applied to solar, solar-terrestrial, and planetary physics. Prof. Cargill has made major contributions to our understanding of the behaviour of plasmas and the terrestrial and solar magnetospheres.

 

Honorary Fellows

The RAS may honour any person eminent in the fields of astronomy or geophysics by election as an Honorary Fellow of the Society. This is typically in recognition of services to astronomical and geophysical sciences such as distinguished leadership of a school, observatory or laboratory; outstanding services to national or international scientific organizations; exceptionally important work in editing scientific publications; influential work in education and public outreach in these sciences; or specially outstanding distinguished work in the history of these sciences.

Honorary Fellows - Astronomy:

  • Professor George Miley
  • Professor Francoise Combes
  • Professor Sandra Faber

Honorary Fellows - Geophysics:

  • Dr Alik Ismail-Zadeh