Five Imperial academics have earned prestigious honours and awards from the Institute of Physics for their outstanding contributions to physics.
The Institute of Physics (IOP)‘s annual awards reflect the wide variety of people, places, organisations and achievements that make physics such an exciting discipline.
Dr Mark Richards and Professor Sir Tejinder (Jim) Virdee were awarded Honorary Fellowships, the Institute’s highest honour, for their outstanding contributions to increasing equity in physics and pioneering Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiments, respectively.
Professors Neil Alford and Mark Oxborrow were awarded the Michael Faraday Medal and Prize for their work on solid-state masers, while Professor Ji-Seon Kim was awarded the Nevill Mott Medal and Prize for her work on molecular semiconductor devices.
Dr Mark Richards
Dr Richards has been honoured with the IOP’s highest award for his “inspiring contributions, advocacy and commitment to increasing equity in physics, including the development of the UK’s first network of Black physicists: the Blackett Lab Family.”
Dr Richards, whose research focuses on using optics and spectroscopy for trace-gas quantification, has dedicated his career to inspiring young people into physics through his science education, outreach and public engagement activities.
Black students, particularly those of Caribbean heritage, have always been significantly underrepresented in physics. In 2006, when Dr Richards began his work in STEM education and outreach, there were only around 250 Black students studying physics A-level across the whole of the UK. At university level, there was rarely more than one Black student per year in a cohort.
I’m honoured to be recognised by the IoP in this way Dr Mark Richards Department of Physics
To challenge this, he dedicated his time to meaningful outreach efforts and evidence-based initiatives for increasing representation, as well as leading international efforts to make academia more inclusive and equitable. The Blackett Lab Family, which he developed, works to strengthen opportunities for Black British physicists, developing outreach activities and other programmes that highlight the scientific contributions of Black researchers, most recently RP2023.
Nearly 1,500 Black pupils now study physics at A-level in England, a six-fold increase since 2006, thanks in no small part to Dr Richards.
At Imperial, he is also a long-standing active member of Imperial As One – the university’s race equality network for staff and postgraduate students.
Dr Richards, from the Department of Physics, said: “I’m honoured to be recognised by the IoP in this way, and I’m also very grateful to all of those who might have gone unrecognised thus far but have nevertheless continued to support the wider objectives of representation in STEM. Finally, I’d like to thank Imperial College London for providing an environment that can enable such work to flourish alongside academic and research excellence.”
Professor Sir Tejinder (Jim) Virdee
Professor Virdee has been honoured with the IOP’s highest award for his “outstanding achievements in particle physics, particularly as a founder of the CMS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider, and his support for physics in Africa.”
He is best known for his leadership of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. His role has covered conceptual design, intensive research and development, prototyping, construction, installation, commissioning, data-taking and physics exploitation.
The CMS experiment played a crucial role in the discovery of the Higgs boson in July 2012, in the analysis of which Professor Virdee was deeply involved. The LHC is now undergoing major upgrades, and again he has come up with novel techniques for the future of the CMS experiment and beyond.
Having started my journey into science in Kenya when young, it gives me great pleasure to encourage the young to follow a similar path Professor Jim Virdee Department of Physics
Professor Virdee helped expand the CMS collaboration by bringing on-board new collaborators, soliciting funds and negotiating in-kind contributions, requiring frequent interaction with Institute leaders, heads of universities, heads of funding agencies and government ministers in many countries.
He was knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 2014.
His citation notes: “Professor Virdee's contributions to particle physics, particularly at the LHC, have been both immense and sustained over decades. He continues to provide both innovative ideas and inspiring leadership and has also been an advocate and supporter of projects to improve the opportunities for many to study and pursue a career in physics in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Professor Virdee, from the Department of Physics, said: “I am humbled to be made an honorary fellow of the IOP. It has been a privilege to work on the discovery of the Higgs boson with so many brilliant scientists, engineers and technicians from all over the world. Having started my journey into science in Kenya when young, it gives me great pleasure to encourage the young to follow a similar path, especially in areas where opportunities and resources are very limited.”
Michael Faraday prize
Professors Neil Alford and Mark Oxborrow
Professors Alford and Oxborrow won the Michael Faraday Medal and Prize as part of the team that developed the world’s first solid-state room-temperature masers in pentacene and then in diamond. The team consists of six academics from Imperial, UCL, and the University of Northumbria.
A sister technology of lasers, masers are the ultimate amplifiers for weak microwave signals, boosting very weak electromagnetic signals without contributing any additional noise. This is essential in fields such as radio astronomy, telecommunications, and medical imaging.
However, until now masers have not had the same technological impact as lasers because it has only been possible for them to function in high magnetic fields within vacuums at cryogenic temperatures close to absolute zero – making them expensive and inconvenient to use.
I am absolutely delighted that the maser team has been awarded the Faraday Prize. It’s testament to the superb contribution from all the team members Professor Neil Alford Department of Materials
The team’s research resulted in the creation of the world’s first room-temperature maser – which offers the benefits of low noise without the constraints and costs imposed by cryogenics.
This breakthrough has opened up many new applications for masers, including producing clearer and faster images in MRI machines, more sensitive magnetic resonance body scanners, quantum computer components, portable atomic clocks, and better radio astronomy devices for deep space exploration.
Professor Alford, from the Department of Materials, said: “I am absolutely delighted that the maser team has been awarded the Faraday Prize. It’s testament to the superb contribution from all the team members in developing a thorough understanding of the physics, the chemistry, the materials science, and the microwave engineering required to make both the organic and the diamond masers work at room temperature.”
Nevill Mott prize
Professor Ji-Seon Kim
Professor Kim won the Nevill Mott Medal and Prize for her ‘outstanding contributions to the materials physics of molecular semiconductor devices, including the pioneering integration of spectroscopy and simulation to elucidate the key processes determining device performance.’
She specialises in soft electronic materials and organic electronics, which are of increasing global importance, with organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) now established as the leading display technology for mobile phones and increasingly for TVs, and growing academic and commercial interest in organic semiconductors for solar cells, photodetectors and biosensors.
It’s great to be recognised for my work on molecular semiconductors, which has been a collective endeavour of my team and many collaborators. Professor Ji-Seon Kim Department of Physics
Her work uses spectroscopy to characterise organic electronic devices, and combines this with simulations to understand the key processes controlling device performance. This has led to new ‘design rules’ for creating the most efficient and stable devices, as well as providing fundamental understanding of key molecular origins and structural dynamics that control organic solar cells, photodetectors and organic electrochemical transistor sensor performance.
By demonstrating molecular-scale engineering of key aspects of OLEDs, Professor Kim was one of three members of the UK team awarded the first Descartes Prize of the European Commission for polymer LEDs for displays.
On her award, Professor Kim, from the Department of Physics, said: “I am delighted to receive this award. It’s great to be recognised for my work on molecular semiconductors, which has been a collective endeavour of my team and many collaborators. I’m very grateful to them!”
Congratulating this year’s winners, IOP President Professor Sir Keith Burnett said: “On behalf of the Institute of Physics, I want to congratulate all of this year’s award winners. Each one has made a significant and positive impact in their profession, whether as a researcher, teacher, industrialist, technician or apprentice and I hope they are incredibly proud of their achievements.
“There is so much focus today on the opportunities generated by a career in physics and the potential our science has to transform our society and economy and I hope the stories of our winners will help to inspire future generations of scientists.”
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