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The RAS - Blackwell Prize


Winners of the Thesis Prizes, 2004: Biographies

First Prize:Paul Williams


(williams<-at->; thesis studies in Atmospheric, Oceanic & Planetary Physics, Clarendon Laboratory, University of Oxford)

Nonlinear interactions of fast and slow modes in rotating, stratified fluid flows

I studied the behaviour of waves in the Earth's atmosphere. Rossby waves are responsible for the familiar pressure variations seen on weather maps, but the atmosphere also contains inertia-gravity waves, which are much smaller in wavelength. It was conventionally thought that Rossby waves and inertia-gravity waves did not significantly interact with each other. This was convenient for atmospheric modellers because inertia-gravity waves are too short to be explicitly included in computer models.

During my D.Phil. I used a laboratory experiment to show that inertia-gravity waves are actually able to cause major transitions in the spatial patterns of the Rossby waves. This was direct evidence that the interaction could be stronger than previously thought. I also showed that the transitions could be simulated in computer models by including a stochastic representation of the inertia-gravity waves. This finding adds to the evidence that numerical models of planetary atmospheres may be improved by adding random noise, a counter-intuitive concept that meteorologists are beginning to take seriously.

I currently hold a postdoctoral Research Fellowship in the Centre for Global Atmospheric Modelling at Reading University. My research forms part of a UK-wide programme which aims to improve our ability to quantify the probability and magnitude of future rapid changes in the Earth's climate. This involves a study of the physics not only of the atmosphere, but also of the ocean, and of interactions between the two. Of particular interest is the ocean's thermohaline circulation, which may rapidly collapse in response to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.


Second Prize:James M Wookey


(jwookey<-at->; thesis studies at the School of Earth Sciences, University of Leeds)

Modelling and interpreting seismograms for 3D Earth structure: A study of mid-mantle anisotropy

The research in my thesis concentrated on prospect of significant seismic anisotropy in the mid-Mantle region of the Earth. This region has long be considered isotropic, but recent global studies have shown widespread evidence that anisotropy is present on a large scale. My work concentrated on looking for evidence of mid-mantle anisotropy on a local scale using body-wave S-phases from deep Earthquakes in the Tonga-Kermadec subduction zones. I also developed and applied forward-modelling techniques to interpret the data. We found clear evidence of anisotropy attributable to the mid-mantle (most likely just below the 660 km discontinuity) for the first time in a local study.

Now a postdoc at School of Earth Sciences, University of Leeds, my main current research is still focussed on deep Earth anisotropy, but I am now working deeper still in the Earth on the enigmatic D" layer (the lowermost ~250 km of the mantle). We have developed techniques to make large improvements on the type of studies currently used to study anisotropy in this region, and have piloted these on a dataset from the Canadian National Seismic Network. This work has already produced some interesting results, and we hope to go on and apply this to a much larger, global dataset.


The RAS Michael Penston Astronomy Prize: (Sponsored by PPARC and Wiley)

First Prize:Clive Dickinson


(cdickins<-at->; thesis studies at Jodrell Bank)

Diffuse Galactic Radiation and its Application To CMB Observations

During my PhD (1999-2002) I worked on several projects, mostly relating to the observation and analysis of CMB data. As a key member of the VSA team (a JBO/Cambridge/IAC collaboration), I analysed the huge data streams required to reach the sensitivity necessary to measure the CMB power spectrum over a wide-range of angular scales. This independently showed that we live in a "flat" universe, dominated by dark energy (70%) and dark matter (30%) with only 5% in the form of baryons.

The other major part of my thesis work was the study of the various "foregrounds" which contaminate CMB data. Using optical H-alpha data, I produced one of the first "template" maps of the Galactic free-free component including the effects of dust extinction in the optical data and a re-appraisal of the theory for its application to CMB data (Dickinson, Davis & Davies et al. 2003). I also collaborated with Prof. John Meaburn to build a unique wide-field (32 deg.) camera to measure the weak H-alpha line over large areas of sky for CMB studies and for investigating the interstellar medium. We imaged a large ionized filament in the Orion/Eridanus region and showed that the filaments were ionized by hot gas (millions of degrees!) in the local superbubble (Boumis et al. 2001).

Post-doc researcher 2002-2004 (Jodrell Bank): after completion of my PhD (Oct 2004) I spent a further 18 months at Jodrell Bank to continue analysing VSA data which led to several papers including a high sensitivity CMB power spectrum (Dickinson et al. 2004) extending to smaller angular scales where few measurements exist. We found a hint of a non-standard spectral index which constrains inflationary models. I have collaborated with Dr. Anthony Banday (MPA, Garching, Germany) to use foreground templates to re-analyse the COBE-DMR data taken with NASA's COBE satellite (Banday et al. 2003). We found strong evidence for a new Galactic foreground, that is correlated with conventional dust but consistent with theoretical predictions of a spinning dust mechanism. This "anomalous" emission has been seen by a number of experiments, yet is still largely unknown.

Post-doc scholar 2004 - 2006 (Caltech): in 2004 I accepted an offer from Prof. Anthony Readhead (California Institute of Technology) to join the Cosmic Background Instrument (CBI) group. The CBI experiment has been upgraded to observe CMB polarization and we have recently published a high signal-to-noise detection (Readhead et al. 2004; to be published in Science Magazine Oct/Nov 2004). The data agree the total-power spectrum with exquisite precision thus providing even more confidence in the standard cosmological model.

I am also a member of a JPL-led experiment ("QUIET") which aims to measure CMB polarization including B-modes - one of the most exciting prospects in CMB research where foregrounds will undoubtedly be critical. I am involved with several proposals to NSF/NASA to understand the foregrounds in detail which will be required for all future CMB experiments such as ESA's Planck mission and NASA's proposed, Inflation Probe.