Gravitational waves award

An early career researcher who has made a key contribution to the European Space Agency’s gravitational wave observatory demonstrator LISA Pathfinder has won a prestigious award for his work on fundamental physics in space.

Image of Ewan Fitzsimons being awarded with his STFC award by Director Professor Gillian WrightDr Ewan Fitzsimons, who works at STFC’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre, has been presented with the ‘Yakov B. Zeldovich Medal’, a joint prize from COSPAR and the Russian Academy of Science which is awarded to young scientists every two years for ‘excellence and achievements’ in space research.

COSPAR works to promote scientific research in space on an international level and this award is for work carried out by Ewan as a PhD student at the University of Glasgow and later at Astrium Germany (now Airbus DS) and he has been honoured for “his key role in the design, development, construction, and testing of the flight model interferometer for LISA Pathfinder and his significant contribution to the system definition and technology demonstration of the optical bench for the future LISA Mission.”

LISA Pathfinder, launched in December 2015, has already been a huge scientific success and has shown that a full scale space-based gravitational wave observatory is achievable; such a mission in space would provide a whole new way of observing the Universe.

"Quite exceptional"

Receiving the award, Ewan said: “It is an exciting time for gravitational waves with the first ever detection announced in February. To have been involved in the design and development of LISA Pathfinder which has been such a success in paving the way for future spacecraft to explore gravitational waves is wonderful. I am looking forward to taking what we have learned from LISA Pathfinder and using it to help make the full LISA mission a reality. Hopefully the current buzz around gravitational waves will inspire more young people to take up a career in science.”

Dr Harry Ward, from the Institute for Gravitational Research at the UofG said of the award: “Very early in his PhD programme at the Institute for Gravitational Research Ewan became a key member of the small team developing the optical metrology system that would fly at the heart of the LISA Pathfinder mission. Ewan became the lead person developing the final optical design for the LPF flight model and in parallel, he developed many of the novel alignment and assembly techniques that proved essential in achieving the extremely challenging tolerances required. For someone to have contributed so much to a highly significant ESA mission at such an early stage in his research training and career is quite exceptional.”

The LISA Pathfinder work at Glasgow was primarily funded by major grants from the United Kingdom Space Agency. Important additional support came from the University of Glasgow and from the European Space Agency.

First published: 4 August 2016

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