Astronomer Royal receives Gold Medal

Published: 18 January 2012

Honorary Senior Research Fellow and Scotland's Astronomer Royal, Professor John Brown, has been awarded one of the most prestigious prizes in Astronomy

An Honorary Senior Research Fellow from the University of Glasgow academic has been awarded the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal for Geophysics, one of the most prestigious prizes in Astronomy.

John Brown, who is Scotland’s 10th Astronomer Royal and until 2010 was Regius Professor of Astronomy at the University, was awarded the medal in recognition of his world-leading contributions to solar physics over the course of his career.

The RAS has been awarding annual medals for almost 200 years to leading astronomers, space scientists and geophysicists who have helped shape the way we think about both our own planet and the wider universe. Former winners of the Gold Medal include Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking and Henri Poincaré. 

John Brown John Brown’s impact in the field of solar physics was in evidence from early on in his career. As a 24 year old lecturer and doctoral student he worked on establishing a new theory for the production of X-rays by electrons in solar flares. Identifying the mechanism behind electron acceleration is still a central and unsolved problem in physics and his ‘collisional thick target model’ of accelerated electron distribution is regarded as a landmark paper in the field, having been cited over 600 times.

In recent years, he has also taken a leading role in NASA’s award-winning RHESSI mission, which aims to explore the basic physics of particle acceleration and explosive release in solar flares.

Throughout a distinguished and productive research career spanning four decades, Professor Brown has collaborated widely, and - especially in his role as Astronomer Royal for Scotland - has inspired the astronomical passions of thousands of people across the UK and overseas through presentations, in person and on television and radio. A talented magician, Professor Brown also uses magic to engage the public and young people with science.

Professor Brown said: “I was very surprised when I got the email out of the blue saying that I was to be awarded the Gold Medal but of course also absolutely delighted. It’s rewarding to receive an accolade based on the research I’ve been engaged in over my career.

“Over the decades I have worked in astronomy, the subject has changed enormously. With the advent of new technologies, it has really blossomed in both the academic and scientific world and in the public eye. In this University alone, astrophysics has gone from strength to strength in both teaching and a range of research areas, this is a trend reflected in the ever growing  proficiency in astronomy and space research across Scotland’s  as a whole.”

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. It aims to support education through grants and outreach schemes and represent UK astronomy nationally and internationally. It has over 3,500 members.

Details of the medal and of the citation on which Professor Brown's award was based, can be found at:

First published: 18 January 2012

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