Professor Michele Dougherty has been awarded the Royal Astronomical Society Gold Medal - its top honour - for her work in space physics missions.
Past winners of the Gold Medal include Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble, Arthur Eddington and Stephen Hawking. Professor Dougherty, from the Department of Physics at Imperial, is the first woman to win the Gold Medal since 2005, and only the fifth to do so since the Society’s foundation in 1820.
It is great to know that the UK community values the outcome of the Cassini mission and sees JUICE as an important next step for planetary science.
– Professor Michele Dougherty
Professor Dougherty is the Principal Investigator for the magnetometer instrument on the Cassini mission to Saturn, which has spent the last 12 years studying the planet and its moons. She is also the only UK Principal Investigator for the upcoming JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) mission to which will explore three of Jupiter’s moons.
The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) recognised Professor Dougherty for her “significant and substantial contributions to the national and international space physics community during her career so far.”
The RAS states: “Professor Dougherty’s work with magnetic field data led to one of the major discoveries of the entire Cassini mission – the presence of a dynamic atmosphere at the tiny moon Enceladus. The potential for habitability at this unsuspecting moon now makes it a major target for future exploration.”
On winning the award, Professor Dougherty said: “I am very honoured to have been awarded the Gold Medal, and it’s in no small part down to the colleagues and great teams of people I am fortunate enough to work with.
"It is also great to know that the UK community values the outcome of the Cassini mission and sees JUICE as an important next step for planetary science.”
Two more prizewinners
Two other Imperial physicists won medals in the RAS’ annual awards, which recognise significant achievement in the fields of astronomy and geophysics. Both won Fowler Awards for their respective fields, which are given to individuals who have made a particularly noteworthy contribution at an early stage of their research career.
The achievements of all of our winners are impressive and we are so pleased to be able to acknowledge them.
– Professor John Zarnecki
President of the Royal Astronomical Society
Dr Jonathan Pritchard won the Fowler Award for Astronomy for his theoretical work into the history of galaxy formation and predicting the low-frequency radio signal from neutral hydrogen during the time of the first galaxies.
Dr Christopher Chen won the Fowler Award for Geophysics for his work with space plasmas and using spacecraft measurements of the solar wind to understand fundamental plasma processes such as turbulence and energy dissipation.
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.”
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