Imperial College London

Five Imperial academics given Institute of Physics awards and fellowships

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Illustration of a rover and an orbiting craft on Mars

A researcher working on the ExoMars rover is one of the winners. Credit: ESA

Accolades go to experts in string theory, Mars missions, solar cells, and particle accelerators, plus the Mechanical Instrumentation Facility manager.

Professor Jerome Gaunlett, Sara Motaghian and Dr Bucker Dangor have all received awards from the Institute of Physics (IoP), and Professor Jenny Nelson and technician Paul Brown have received honorary fellowships to the Institute, its highest honour.

Congratulating this year’s Award winners and Honorary Fellows, Institute of Physics President Professor Sheila Rowan said: “Each and every one of them has made a significant and positive impact in their profession, whether as a researcher, teacher, industrialist, technician or apprentice.

“Recent events have underlined the absolute necessity to encourage and reward our scientists and those who teach and encourage future generations. We rely on their dedication and innovation to improve many aspects of the lives of individuals and of our wider society."

Professor Jerome Gauntlett - John William Strutt, Lord Rayleigh Medal and Prize

Jerome GauntlettThe prize is awarded for distinguished contributions to theoretical (including mathematical and computational) physics. Professor Gauntlett is recognised for “distinguished contributions to our understanding of string theory and its application to quantum field theory, black holes, condensed matter physics and geometry.”

String theory is one of the leading frameworks for unifying the four fundamental forces of nature - gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. Quantum theory, which explains much of how the forces work on the subatomic scale, is incompatible with Einstein's theory of General Relativity, our best understanding of gravity.

The goal of string theory is to reconcile these two paradigms, and thus give rise to a theory of quantum gravity. Such a theory will allow us to understand the quantum properties of black holes and the origins of the universe at the Big Bang. String theory also has an extraordinarily rich structure and it has impacted upon other branches of theoretical physics and mathematics. Professor Gauntlett has made significant contributions to this exciting ongoing research in many different areas.

He said: “I was delighted to hear about the award! It is very gratifying to have my research acknowledged by the Institute of Physics in this way. The award is also a testament to the many wonderful collaborations that I have been involved with over the course of my career.”

Read his full citation on the IoP website.

Sara Motaghian - Jocelyn Bell Burnell Medal and Prize

Sara MotaghianThe prize is awarded for exceptional early-career contributions to physics by a very early career female physicist. Sara is recognised for “developing spectral mission software for ExoMars to expedite analysis and maximise scientific mission return, and her equity work leading Roving with Rosalind, inspiring thousands of children with ExoMars.”

Sara developed key mission analysis software for the search for life with ExoMars using spectral instrumentation, and is building analysis tools and protocols to improve our chances of finding evidence of life on Mars.

She also created a nationwide education programme called Roving with Rosalind (RwR) specifically to provide underserved audiences with practical, engaging and inspiring upskilling opportunities in STEM. RwR sends kits to educational groups and schools for free, removing geographical and financial barriers to participation.

In order to address skills gaps in students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, she also partnered with several organisations, including In2Science, to deliver interactive physics programming workshop that teaches students python programming.

She said: “I am so honoured to be recognised for this medal, named after an incredible woman in science and accompanied by so many amazing previous winners.”

Read her full citation on the IoP website.

Dr Bucker Dangor - Michael Faraday Medal and Prize

Bucker DangorThe prize is awarded for experimental physics. Dr Dangor is recognised for “outstanding contributions to experimental plasma physics, and in particular for his role in the development of the field of laser–plasma acceleration.”

Particle accelerators play a central role in many areas of science, including radiation therapy, light sources and high-energy physics searches. A candidate for taking particle accelerators to the next level are plasma-based acceleration schemes.

Dr Dangor was one of the first people to see the potential of plasma-based particle accelerators and his group was initially one of only a handful in the world studying the phenomena that could enable particle acceleration. His experiments in this field were hugely successful and laid the foundations of laser-driven particle accelerators.

The legacy of this work can still be witnessed in the running of the highly successful Magpie pulse-power facility at Imperial College London and of the Thomson scattering diagnostic routinely used on the Joint European Torus and Mega Ampere Spherical Tokamak experiments.

He said: “I am honoured and delighted to receive the award. I must acknowledge the contributions of my many students and collaborators at Imperial and other institutions.”

Read his full citation on the IoP website.

Paul Brown – Honorary Fellowship

Paul BrownAn Honorary Fellowship is presented to reflect an individual’s exceptional services to physics. Paul is recognised for “outstanding service to physics, leadership and innovation in the establishment of the mechanical instrumentation facility in Physics at Imperial College London, which has underpinned diverse and internationally leading physics research programmes.”

Paul was appointed manager of what is now the Mechanical Instrumentation Facility in the Department of Physics, leading on a £3m refurbishment push to ensure applied physics research at Imperial maintained its leading edge.

He has also ensured that physics education is equally supported, interacting widely with undergraduates, meeting their needs. For example, in the summer of 2020 he coordinated the production of components for the several hundreds of ‘lab-in-a-box’ packages that were assembled and couriered throughout the world in October, enabling all Imperial physics undergraduates to carry out their laboratory experiments during COVID isolation without disruption.

His citation from the IoP says: “Having started his career as an apprentice in mechanical engineering, Paul’s non-traditional route into physics – and enjoying since such a decorated success story – is both an inspiration and roadmap for students in similar positions, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds.”

Paul said: “I am truly humbled to have been recognised by the Institute of Physics with an Honorary Fellowship and feel very appreciative to those from the Department of Physics who both made this nomination and have supported me over my career.

“Looking down the list of past recipients, I feel incredibly privileged to be in such esteemed company.  This is an award for me, but it is also a testament to the brilliant technicians, past and present, who I have the pleasure to work with in the Physics Mechanical Instrumentation Facility.”

Read his full citation on the IoP website.  

Professor Jenny Nelson – Honorary Fellowship

Professor Jenny Nelson

Honorary Fellowships acknowledge physicists who have contributed to physics generally or to the work of the IoP. Professor Nelson is recognised for “driving the science and development of fundamental physical models, simulation tools and experiments to discover and exploit relationships between the performance of solar cell devices and the physical and chemical properties of their constituent materials.”

Professor Nelson has had “a profound influence on the development of the science underpinning solar photovoltaic (PV) technology”. New, cheaper and more flexible materials to make solar cells have been developed over recent years, but these often lack performance and stability. Much of the early improvements in design were achieved through trial and error, but Professor Nelson has pioneered approaches to rationally design new photovoltaics based on an understanding of their functioning principles.

The modelling tools she has developed have been adopted by companies and other groups, and she has worked closely with industry partners. Professor Nelson also engaged with policy development in renewable energy technology whilst head of the climate change mitigation team at the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial.

Read her full citation on the IoP website.

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Hayley Dunning

Hayley Dunning
Communications Division

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Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 2412
Email: h.dunning@imperial.ac.uk

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