An astrophysicist known for his work on brown dwarfs and a geophysicist whose career has taken him to the hottest and coldest places on Earth have joined the likes of Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble and Stephen Hawking in being awarded the Royal Astronomical Society’s prestigious Gold Medal.
Professor Gilles Chabrier, of the Ecole Normale Superieure de Lyon, CNRS and University of Exeter, and Professor John-Michael Kendall, of the University of Oxford, join an illustrious list of luminaries in receiving the Society’s highest honour, which dates back 200 years.
Professor Chabrier described winning the Gold Medal – which recognises lifetime achievement – as the "culmination of my scientific career".
He added: "It is a great honour for me to receive this prestigious award of the Royal Astronomical Society.
"Science has always been the dedication of my life. Receiving the Gold Medal of the RAS is a dream I would not have dared to dream when I decided to become a scientist."
Professor Kendall said: "I am thrilled to be awarded this medal and I am grateful to the UK geophysics community for all of the support and collaborations – it has been a privilege to work with so many talented researchers.
"I have also been fortunate to work with a large number of early career scientists, many from developing countries."
Each year the RAS recognises significant achievement in the fields of astronomy and geophysics through a number of awards, medals and prizes, encompassing different types of talent from research to education and outreach.
Professor Chabrier received the Gold Medal in recognition of his outstanding contributions to stellar and planetary astrophysics, and to galactic astronomy, while Professor Kendall was honoured for his exceptional work in the field of solid Earth geophysics.
Past Gold Medal winners include Einstein, Hubble, Hawking and Arthur Eddington, who along with Einstein was one of the first physicists to understand the early ideas of relativity.
English mathematician Charles Babbage and German astronomer Johann Franz Encke were jointly handed the first RAS Gold Medal exactly 200 years ago, in 1824.
Since 1964 two have been awarded each year: one for astronomy, and one for geophysics. The medal features an image of the 40-foot telescope constructed by Sir William Herschel, who was the first president of the RAS.
The award announcements were made at the Ordinary Meeting of the Society held on Friday 12 January 2024.
Professor Chabrier’s work has explored the nature of high density environments in white dwarf interiors, leading to the transformational Segretain-Chabrier phase diagram.
By developing the Saumon-Chabrier-Van Horn equation-of-state, scientists are now better able to understand the prevailing conditions in the interior of low-mass stars, brown dwarfs, giant planets, and the envelopes of white dwarfs and neutron stars.
During his career, Professor Chabrier has made outstanding contributions to the understanding of the physics of astrophysical plasmas.
Within the field of galactic astronomy, some of his most impactful work is the derivation of the galactic stellar and substellar initial mass function (IMF), the Chabrier IMF, which has become the standard IMF reference in galactic astronomy.
Use of this IMF led to the first accurate determination of the various contributions of stars, brown dwarfs and stellar remnants to the galactic mass budget.
Professor Kendall was awarded the Gold Medal for his outstanding contributions in the field of solid Earth geophysics.
Using seismology, he has made important contributions across academia and industry, from the deep Earth to volcanoes, and from ice sheets to the energy transition.
One of his biggest contributions has been through supporting geophysics more widely, where he has taken on a number of leadership roles and has supported the next generation of seismologists by advising and supporting more than 70 PhD students and Postdoctoral Research Associates.
As well as the Gold Medals, the Royal Astronomical Society also awards a variety of other medals, awards, honorary fellowships and lectureships.
Awards are designated 'A' for astronomy (including astrophysics and cosmology) and 'G' for geophysics (including solar physics, planetary science and solar-terrestrial physics). Full citations are linked as PDF files in the list below.
The full list of 2024 winners:
Gold Medal (G): Professor John-Michael Kendall, University of Oxford
Eddington Medal (A): Professor Pedro Ferreira, University of Oxford
Chapman Medal (G): Professor Valery Nakariakov, University of Warwick
Herschel Medal (A): Professor Emerita Roberta Humphreys, Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics
Price Medal (G): Professor Christopher Davies, University of Leeds
Jackson-Gwilt Medal (A): Dr Keith Bannister, CSIRO, and Professor Ryan Shannon, Swinburne University of Technology
Fowler Award (A): Dr Leah Morabito, Durham University
Fowler Award (G): Dr Christopher Smith, Huddersfield New College (Sixth Form)
Winton Award (A): Dr Chris Lovell, University of Portsmouth
Winton Award (G): Dr Andy W. Smith, Northumbria University
Group Achievement Award (A): JWST-MIRI Team
Service Award (A): Professor Ian Robson, Retired
Service Award (G): Professor Ian McCrea, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
RAS Primary Education Award: Teresa McGrory, St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School
RAS Secondary Education Award: Arabi Karteepan, Croydon High School
RAS Higher Education Award: Dr David Cornwell, University of Aberdeen
Annie Maunder Medal: AMT Mobile Planetarium Team, University of Namibia
'Named' lectures to be delivered at a meeting of the Society:
George Darwin Lectureship: Professor Chiaki Kobayashi, University of Hertfordshire
James Dungey Lectureship: Dr Gabrielle Provan, University of Leicester
Harold Jeffreys Lectureship: Dr Jessica Irving, University of Bristol
Professor Mike Edmunds, president of the Royal Astronomical Society, said: "It is an honour to recognise such remarkable talent in the fields of astronomy and geophysics.
"Exactly 200 years ago we awarded the first Gold Medals to Charles Babbage and Johann Franz Encke.
"At the time, one of the main objectives of the Astronomical Society of London (it became the RAS in 1831) was to encourage and promote the study of astronomy ‘by bestowing medals or rewards on successful research’.
“The range of our awards has broadened since then, but the standard of the work they reward has remained extremely high – as a glance at this year’s winners will demonstrate.
"I hope (with the RAS founders) that the awards will continue to inspire and advance the study of astronomy and geophysics, both now and in the future."
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Images and captions
Images of the award winners and medals are available on request.
Notes for editors
The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organises scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognises outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 4,000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.The RAS accepts papers for its journals based on the principle of peer review, in which fellow experts on the editorial boards accept the paper as worth considering. The Society issues press releases based on a similar principle, but the organisations and scientists concerned have overall responsibility for their content.