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RAS PN 09/1: World's leading astronomers and geophysicists honoured by Royal Astronomical Society

Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 April 2010 14:50
Published on Friday, 09 January 2009 18:00
Astronomers and geophysicists from the UK and across the world have today received recognition of their work by the Royal Astronomical Society in its annual list of medals and awards, to be presented at the National Astronomy Meeting in April.

Date: 9th January 2009
Ref.: PN 09/1
For immediate release
Issued by:
Dr Robert Massey
RAS Press Officer
Royal Astronomical Society
Burlington House
London W1J 0BQ
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3307 / 4582
Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035
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RAS website:


The Royal Astronomical Society, the UK’s voice for professional astronomers and geophysicists, today announced the recipients of the Society’s medals and prizes for 2009. The medal and prize winners honour a range of individuals and groups who have made an outstanding contribution to astronomy and geophysics.

The Gold Medal for Astronomy is awarded to Professor David Williams of University College London. Professor Williams has made seminal contributions to astronomy, particularly in the field of astrochemistry, applying it in progressive phases of star formation, from prestellar objects to protostars to the disks and planets found around young stars. He has also applied this technique in environments found at the end of the lives of stars, from planetary nebulae like the one that will emerge at the end of the Sun’s life to the ejecta from supernova explosions from more massive stars. Professor Williams effectively introduced the field of astrochemistry as a modern discipline to the UK and assembled a community that enabled it to blossom into a major research area.

Professor Williams led research groups in Manchester and London, produced more than 300 publications in refereed journals and numerous books and is a former President of the RAS. He is honoured in recognition of his role as a distinguished scientist, teacher and organiser.

The Gold Medal for Geophysics is awarded to Professor Eric Priest of the University of St Andrews. Professor Priest is a giant in the fields of solar and solar-terrestrial physics (the latter describes the interaction between the Sun and the Earth) and has worked in these areas for more than 40 years. He is the world’s leading authority on the magneto-hydrodynamic (MHD) theory of the Sun, which describes how magnetic fields emanate from our nearest star and change and influence solar material. This drives events from solar flares to the heating of the solar corona – the Sun’s outer atmosphere that intriguingly is far hotter than the visible surface below. To help explain these phenomena, Professor Priest developed the ‘magnetic skeleton’, a conceptual device that allows MHD and its effects to be described in three dimensions and is now a tool widely used by the research community.

Professor Priest has been a Fellow of the Royal Society since 2002. He is honoured in recognition of both his distinguished research work and his key role in nurturing future generations of scientists.

The Eddington Medal is awarded to Professor James Pringle of the University of Cambridge. Professor Pringle is one of the main developers of the modern theory of accretion processes, which describe how material flows towards objects under the influence of gravitational fields. From the late 1970s, Professor Pringle published a series of papers which explained many phenomena seen in close binary star systems, such as the outbursts of ‘dwarf novae’ explosions that take place when material from one star accumulates on another. He showed how accretion processes were probably at work in the active nuclei of some galaxies, for example around supermassive black holes. Professor Pringle remains a highly active and influential researcher, with interests now extending to planetary formation and dynamics.

The Jackson-Gwilt Medal is awarded to Professor Peter Ade of the University of Cardiff. He is the world’s leading designer and supplier of key components for infra-red astronomy including filters and polarisers. Professor Ade began his career in the 1970s at the then Queen Mary Westfield College in London, where he built an instrumentation group which provided instruments for both astronomical and atmospheric research. He moved to Cardiff in 1981 to create one of the largest infra-red and millimetre wave (beyond infra-red) instrumentation groups in the world. Professor Ade pioneered the design of instruments cooled with Helium-3. Amongst other projects he has contributed instruments to SCUBA (an instrument used on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii) and Boomerang (a telescope carried above Antarctica by balloon). He is currently involved with SCUBA-2 and the Herschel-SPIRE infrared space observatory.

The Price Medal is awarded to Dr Malcolm Sambridge of the Australian National University. Dr Sambridge has made a major contribution to algorithms in geophysics. He has developed applications in relating to the behaviour and location of earthquakes and the flow of fluids beneath the surface of the Earth. Dr Sambridge has always been keen to stress the importance of uncertainty estimates (something not all geophysicists are comfortable with) and developed the tools to tackle them. He is honoured for his work as a distinguished teacher and scientist with wide range of interests in geophysics and other scientific disciplines.

The Fowler Prize for Astronomy is awarded to Dr Sarah Bridle of University College London. Dr Bridle has made important contributions to cosmology, in areas ranging from the cosmic microwave background radiation to gravitational lensing and surveys of the redshifts of galaxies. She has completed work on how to maximise the amount of information (and hence progress the field) obtained from the next generation of data sets that will come from instruments such as the Square Kilometre Array (the large radio observatory planned for the next decade). Dr Bridle is honoured in recognition of her status as a young scientist of proven achievement and great promise.

The Fowler Award for Geophysics is awarded to Dr David Tsiklauri of the University of Salford. Dr Tsiklauri is honoured for his work as a talented young solar physicist at the forefront of his field. He has chosen to focus on one of the major unsolved problems of solar physics Рthe heating of the solar corona. Dr Tsiklauri has already identified a new mechanism for accelerating electrons using a specific type of wave disturbance (Alfv̩n waves), one that had never been considered before and which could be crucial to explaining the heating mechanism.

The Award for Services to Astronomy is given to Professor Sir Arnold Wolfendale of the University of Durham. Professor Wolfendale has been a leader of UK astronomy for more than three decades. He helped to bring funding to telescopes and space missions that now deliver world-class science. Professor Wolfendale not only led and advised the UK astronomical community but gave public advice to Ministers of Science, setting a new tone for the public debate between scientists and government. He became a vocal champion of fundamental research, and physics and astronomy in particular. Professor Wolfendale was elected to the Royal Society in 1977, became President of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1981 and the 14th Astronomer Royal in 1991. Despite this level of commitment he remains an active public speaker at venues across the UK.

The Award for Services to Geophysics is given to Dr David Kerridge of the British Geological Survey (BGS) in Edinburgh. Dr Kerridge has made an exceptional contribution to the field of geomagnetism. A key example at the BGS is the work following the Andaman Islands (Indian Ocean) tsunami of Boxing Day 2004, including leading a multi-agency study to assess the tsunami risk to the UK. On an international level, he is a former President of the International Association for Geomagnetism and Aeronomy (IAGA), which during his time in office established the celebrations of the electronic Geophysical Year. Dr Kerridge also helped set up the INTERMAGNET network of digital magnetic observatories across the world, working to ensure truly global coverage. He has also unselfishly worked to expand opportunities for young scientists and those from less developed countries.

The Group Achievement Award goes to the Sub-millimetre Common User Bolometer Array (SCUBA) team. The SCUBA camera was built at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh and mounted on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, where it operated from 1996 to 2006. SCUBA enabled astronomers to map the sky at sub-millimetre wavelengths (beyond infrared) with unprecedented speed. Amongst a suite of discoveries, SCUBA provided the first images of rotating debris disks around Sun-like stars, with direct evidence for the formation of planets. Scientists have produced papers on the basis of SCUBA data at a prolific rate, with the level of citations for these second only to the Hubble Space Telescope.

The following have been made Honorary Fellows of the Society in recognition of their outstanding work:

Professor Matthew Colless, Anglo-Australian Observatory, Australia
Professor Janusz Sylwester, Space Research Centre, Polish Academy of Sciences, Wroclaw, Poland
Professor Bernard Schutz, MPI Gravitational Physics, Potsdam, Germany

Professor Joseph Burns, Cornell University, USA
Professor Jitendra Goswami, Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad, India
Dr Athelstan Frederick Spilhaus, Retiring Executive Director, American Geophysical Union

Professor Andy Fabian, President of the Royal Astronomical Society commented “The RAS is delighted to honour the work of these talented individuals and groups, young and old, both here in the UK and across the world. We are privileged to live in a time when astronomers and geophysicists are pushing back the frontiers of science and it is fitting to recognise their truly outstanding work. I congratulate them all.”


Dr Robert Massey
(details above)


Royal Astronomical Society:


The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.