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RAS honours leading astronomers and geophysicists

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 January 2017 15:46
Published on Friday, 13 January 2017 15:31

The Royal Astronomical Society is pleased to announce the 2017 winners of its awards, medals and prizes. Each year the RAS recognises significant achievement in the fields of astronomy and geophysics through these awards.

The announcements will be made at the Ordinary Meeting of the society held on Friday 13 January 2017. The winners will be invited to collect their awards at the Society's National Astronomy Meeting in Hull in July.

The Society's highest honour is its Gold Medal, which can be awarded for any reason but usually recognises lifetime achievement. Past winners include Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble, Arthur Eddington and Stephen Hawking. It was first awarded in 1824; since 1964 two have been awarded each year: one for astronomy, and one for geophysics.

This year the winners are Prof Nick Kaiser of the University of Hawaii, and Prof Michele Dougherty of Imperial College London, the first woman to win the Gold Medal since 2005, and only the fifth to do so since the Society’s foundation in 1820.

In 2016 the Society also introduced two new medals, the Annie Maunder Medal for public engagement, and the Agnes Clerke History Medal. Dr Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, is the first winner of the Annie Maunder Medal, and Prof Clive Ruggles of the University of Leicester wins the Agnes Clerke Medal.


The winner of the Gold Medal in astronomy is Professor Nick Kaiser of the University of Hawaii

Kaiser Nick - gold medalProfessor Nick Kaiser, winner of the Gold Medal in astronomy.

Professor Nick Kaiser has had an enormous influence on the development of modern cosmology. His contributions are extraordinarily broad and deep, spanning the range of observational probes of cosmological structure formation, and have become part of the lexicon of the subject. He had the key insight that the large-scale distribution of galaxies is biased with respect to the underlying dark matter, with dense regions favouring early galaxy formation. This was crucial for the interpretation of observations, providing the basic support for the standard “cold dark matter” model of the Universe. His innovative work led to the mathematical underpinning describing the primordial density fields that evolve into cosmological structure. He was a pioneer of the field of weak gravitational lensing by large scale structure and its use as a way to map dark matter, now one of the most promising cosmological probes. He was the first to realize that the large-scale clustering pattern of galaxies in redshift space would be squashed along the line-of-sight, and developed powerful analytical models of the evolution and clustering of galaxy clusters. He produced seminal work on the polarization of the cosmic microwave radiation. He also pioneered a new type of wide-field survey telescope (revolutionizing wide-field optical astronomy) and instigated the Pan-STARRS project that implements some of these ideas, with science return ranging from the solar system to cosmology. 


The winner of the Gold Medal in geophysics is Professor Michele Dougherty of Imperial College London

Dougherty Michele - Gold G MedalProfessor Michele Dougherty, winner of the Gold Medal in geophysics.Professor Dougherty has made significant and substantial contributions to the national and international space physics community during her career so far. She is the Principal Investigator for the magnetometer instrument on the Cassini mission to Saturn, and she has expertly led the team through a vast array of scientific discoveries at the Saturn system. Professor Dougherty’s work with magnetic field data led to one of the major discoveries of the entire mission – the presence of a dynamic atmosphere at the tiny moon Enceladus. Supporting imaging measurements revealed the geysers which are now synonymous with Enceladus, spewing water ice into the Saturn system and continuously replenishing the E-ring. The potential for habitability at this unsuspecting moon now makes it a major target for future exploration. Her prolific publication record and extensive citation rates are a testament to the high value placed on her research.


Whilst continuing to make major discoveries at Saturn with her magnetometer team, Professor Dougherty also became involved in the early proposals to the ESA Cosmic Vision programme for new missions to the outer Solar System. Her hard work, strong leadership and unrelenting determination contributed significantly to the successful selection of the JUICE mission in 2012. She went on to propose and be selected as the only UK Principal Investigator for the JUICE mission, for the magnetometer instrument (J-MAG), thus securing a strong place for UK science participation in this exciting new European mission.


Professor John Zarnecki, President of the Royal Astronomical Society, congratulated the winners:

“The recipients of the Royal Astronomical Society's 2017 awards, medals and prizes reflect the enormously wide range of interests of the Society and its members.  From the interior of our Earth through to the Outer Planets of our Solar System and further to our own Galaxy and even to the outer reaches of our Universe, all disciplines are represented.  The achievements of all of our winners are impressive and we are so pleased to be able to acknowledge them.”

The Society also awards a number of other medals and prizes; for more information on the awards and the achievements of the winners, see the full citations linked from the winners' names below.


List of winners


Awards are designated 'A' for astronomy (including astrophysics, cosmology etc.) and 'G' for geophysics (including solar physics, planetary science, solar-terrestrial physics etc.). Some awards are given in both fields. For images see the Awards Picture Gallery.


Gold Medal

Eddington Medal (A)

Chapman Medal (G)

Price Medal (G)

Herschel Medal (A)

Jackson-Gwilt Medal (A)

Fowler Prize

Winton Capital Award

Group Achievement Award (A)

Group Achievement Award (G)

RAS Service Award

Patrick Moore Medal

Annie Maunder Medal

Agnes Clerke Medal

Honorary Fellowship of the RAS

'Named' lectures to be delivered at a meeting of the Society:

George Darwin Lecturer

Harold Jeffreys Lecturer

James Dungey Lecturer


Media contacts


Dr Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)20 7292 3979
Mob: +44 (0)7802 877699
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Dr Morgan Hollis
Royal Astronomical Society
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)20 7292 3977
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Notes for editors


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 4000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.