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Two knighthoods for scientists at Imperial College London

External Sites:
-Queen's Birthday Honours 2005 recipient lists (BBC News Online)
(Imperial College is not responsible for the content of these external internet sites)

Monday 13 June 2005

A physicist and an environmental scientist at Imperial College London are among distinguished figures recognised in the Queen's Birthday Honours this weekend.

Professors Gordon Conway and Peter Knight

Peter Knight, head of physics at Imperial, received a knighthood in recognition of his role in establishing the UK as a world centre for research into quantum optics. Also honoured was Gordon Conway, professor in international development, who was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George for services to international development, science and agriculture.

Commenting on the honours, Sir Richard Sykes, Rector, said:

"We're absolutely delighted that the excellent work of our colleagues has been recognised in this magnificent way.

"Both Peter and Gordon have shown outstanding leadership in their own ways and were immensely proud to be able to share in their achievements at Imperial."

Sir Peter said he was "flabbergasted and very pleased" to be recognised and was quick to pay tribute to the quality of the team around him at the College.

"At Imperial, our aim is always to take the most gifted young people and give them an environment in which they can flourish," he says. "The fact that the UK continues to lead the world in quantum optics is down to their talent and enthusiasm. Having the opportunity to work with so many of my former students and see them become leaders in their field is something I feel most proud of."

Sir Peter's work focuses in particular on quantum optics and strong field physics, an area largely shaped by the properties of laser light. He was the first to predict that atoms driven by intense laser fields would radiate high harmonics and he developed a model successfully explaining the behaviour of multi-electron atoms, allowing a detailed analysis of how atoms are stabilised in super-intense laser fields.

"Quantum optics gives us a different tool with which to analyse matter," explains Sir Peter.

"As we discover more about how perturbing atoms with this strong light field affects electrons, we can move on to using lasers to manipulate matter at a quantum level. This opens all sorts of exciting possibilities in terms of steering chemical reactions," says Sir Peter.

His other main interest is in understanding how information can be stored, transmitted and processed in different ways using quantum physics, as part of a large programme at Imperial on quantum computing and information processing.

Professor Michael Duff, Principal of the Faculty of Physical Sciences at Imperial, was one of the first to congratulate Sir Peter on his knighthood.

Professor Duff adds: "Peter is one of those rare individuals who can combine deep scientific insights with extraordinary management skills, all with a boundless enthusiasm. He has left an indelible mark on the field of optics.

"And his talent for spotting and encouraging promising young physicists has enabled him to build up an extremely strong research group which will provide the basis for future scientific discoveries here at Imperial."

Ed Hinds, director of the physics department's Centre for Cold Matter agrees.

"Peter is among the most prolific researchers in physics and at the same time has devoted immense energy to helping the optics community worldwide," says Hinds.

"I know this was a surprise to Peter but to the rest of us it seems a most natural and appropriate recognition."

Sir Peter first came to Imperial in 1979, after working in the United States at Stanford and Rochester universities and in the UK at Sussex and Royal Holloway. He became head of the department of physics in 2001 and acted as Principal of the Faculty of Physical Sciences in 2004 until May this year.

In 2004 he became the first President of the Optical Society of America to be elected from outside North America, a sign of the esteem he is held in by his peers according to Liz Rogan, executive director of the OSA.

"Peter has been a dedicated and driving force for the advancement of optics on a global scale," she says. "His many contributions have benefited the field as we know it today and, equally importantly, his work will help generations to come. OSA has been honoured to have Peter's leadership and we celebrate this wonderful recognition."

His commitment to encouraging research in physics is also demonstrated by his editorship of Contemporary Physics and the Journal of Modern Optics, alongside his wife Christine who is Editorial Manager for both publications.

Sir Peter reflects: "Over my career, I've seen quantum optics grow from just a handful of researchers 30 years ago to the strong and vibrant field it is today. To have been able to play a part in this has been a great honour for myself and the talented people I work with."

The news of Gordon Conway's honour was welcomed as "highly deserved" by his colleague Jeff Waage, professor of applied ecology at Imperial, who added:

"Gordon has had a distinguished career in the fields of development and academia, spearheading many projects that have made a real difference to the lives of some of the world's poorest people."

Sir Gordon is chief scientific adviser to the Department for International Development. He worked at Imperial from 1970 to 1988, lately as professor of environmental technology, and returned last year as a part-time professor of international development. He was President of the Rockefeller Foundation between 1998-2004, and was vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex from 1992 to 1998.

Biographical notes:

Professor Sir Peter Knight, 57, is the Head of the Physics Department at Imperial College London and leads a large research group within the Quantum Optics and Laser Science (QOLS) Group working on the theory of quantum information and quantum optics.

He is Chief Scientific Advisor at the UK National Physical Laboratory, a Fellow of the Institute of Physics and of the Optical Society of America and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1999. He was awarded the Thomas Young Medal from the Institute of Physics in 1999, the Einstein Medal for Laser Science and the Parsons Medal.

Professor Sir Gordon Conway, 66, worked at Imperial College London as a Research Fellow and lecturer in the Department of Zoology and Applied Entomology between 1970-1976. He was a reader in Environmental Technology at Imperial College between 1976-1980 and Professor of Environmental Technology from 1980 to 1988.

He became Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sussex in 1992. In 1998 he became President of the Rockefeller Foundation, a foundation with a commitment to enrich and sustain the lives and livelihoods of excluded people throughout the world. He has spent more than 30 years in places like Borneo, India and Thailand developing ecologically sound farming. He spearheaded sustainable agriculture, a set of practices for controlling pests and boosting yields without heavy reliance on chemicals. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2004.