Imperial academics awarded top honours by the Queen


Buckingham Palace

Planetary scientist Professor David Southwood has been awarded a CBE while molecular pathologist Professor Gerry Thomas has been awarded an OBE.

Professor Southwood, who received his award for services to Space Science and Industry in Britain and Europe, founded the Space and Atmospheric Physics group at Imperial and later became head of the Department of Physics

Professor David Southwood
Professor David Southwood

His scientific roles included building the magnetometer for the NASA Cassini Saturn orbiter spacecraft.  He was chair of the Steering Board of the UK Space Agency until March 2019, and is a past president of the Royal Astronomical Society

In the late ‘90s he joined the European Space Agency (ESA) where he drew up the current architecture for European Earth Observation programmes (Earth Explorers and Copernicus).   

He later became ESA Director of Science responsible for all Astronomy and Space science missions - including developing Herschel, Planck and GAIA astronomical observatories, Mars Express and Venus Express and several other major space missions.  He was also responsible for developing Europe’s long term plans for Mars exploration.   

Cassini around Saturn
Cassini around Saturn

Professor Southwood, who returned to Imperial College in 2011, said: “I’m delighted to be honoured, particularly for contributions in both Britain and Europe. 

“In Europe my most difficult time was getting the structure of 21st C Earth Observation agreed between ESA and EU but now, with Copernicus, Europe has something world beating. 

“The most exhilarating time was landing the Huygens probe on Titan and the most satisfying was seeing first light from the Herschel space telescope. 

“Brexit has made it challenging to preserve UK’s position in Navigation and the Copernicus environmental programme - but seeing our country with an innovative new space industry and ready to launch small spacecraft from Scotland leaves me happy for the future.”    

Humbling recognition

Professor Thomas, who specialises in molecular pathology, and has advised on the risks of radiation from both Chernobyl and Fukushima, receives her award for services to Science and Public Health. 

Professor Gerry Thomas
Professor Gerry Thomas

She is the author of a number of reviews of the health effects of radiation exposure following nuclear accidents and following the Fukushima accident, she was asked to explain the health risks of radiation on both broadcast and written media in the UK and internationally.  

Professor Thomas said: “I am humbled for being recognised for standing up for scientific evidence against urban myth, and would like to feel that the award is not just for me, but also for the many people I have worked with over the years, both in the UK, Japan, Ukraine, Russia, the US and Europe, including the many journalists that have been generous with their time in order to get the reported facts straight.  

“I’d also like to recognise the tremendous support that I had from staff at the British Embassy in Japan – I would have been totally lost without them.  Standing up for science, particularly in such a controversial area, is not always easy, and support from family, friends, colleagues and the College has been essential for me to be able to do this.” 

Professor Thomas became a Professor of Molecular Pathology at Imperial College London in 2007, where she established the West London Genome Medicine Centre as part of the UK’s 100,000 genomes project and is Director of the Imperial College Healthcare Tissue Bank and the Chernobyl Tissue Bank.

Dr Jess WadeImperial physicist Dr Jess Wade was awarded an British Empire Medal for services to gender diversity in science. 

Dr Wade, who researches polymer-based LEDs in the Blackett Lab, has led a series of public engagement initiatives to promote women in STEM. This includes schools outreach work in physics, coordinating international women in physics academic conferences, and writing hundreds of Wikipedia pages to improve recognition of women scientists. 

Further alumni success

Anthony Meggs (MSc Chemical Engineering & Chemical Technology 1979) has been made a CB for public service, whilst Valerie Cain (MBA 1998) has been awarded a CBE, also for public service.

Four alumni were awarded OBEs: Dr Christopher Dorman (PhD Physics 1997) for services to laser and photonic technology and exports, Professor Lee Major (MSc Science Communication 1994) for services to social mobility, Dr June Chatfield (Botany and Plant Technology 1965) for services to conservation and natural history education and Geoffrey Forder (MBA 1996) for services to naval logistic support.

Two alumni were honoured with MBEs: Jessica Baker (MSc Mechanical Engineering 2011) for services to global supply chains and Dr Navnit Chana (Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School 1986) for services to clinical education and primary and community care.


Hannah MacLachlan

Hannah MacLachlan
Communications and Public Affairs

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