Royal Medal for UofG physicist

A University of Glasgow physicist who worked for more than 50 years to find evidence of gravitational waves has received royal recognition for his work.

Professor James Hough, of the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, was presented with a Royal Medal by HRH Princess Anne at the Royal Society of Edinburgh on Friday 9 December.

Professor Jim Hough and colleagues reflect on his career

Royal Medals have been presented to distinguished individuals in the arts, sciences and industry since 2000. Professor Hough’s award recognises his invaluable contribution to the field of physics and the study of gravitational waves – ripples in spacetime caused by massive astronomical events such as the collision of black holes.

The existence of gravitational waves was predicted by Albert Einstein in 1915, but it took until the 21st century before equipment sensitive enough to actually detect the very faint signals could be built. The Advanced LIGO detector in the USA made the first detection in September last year. The super-sensitive measurement equipment at the heart of LIGO includes vital contributions led by the University of Glasgow.

Professor Hough joined the University as a physics undergraduate in 1963. He remained at the University as a postgraduate student under the supervision of Professor Ronald Drever, and he has worked at the University as an astrophysicist ever since. He was the first director of the University’s Institute for Gravitational Research, established in 2000, and has played leading roles in international gravitational wave detection collaborations including the German-led GEO600, the Italian-led VIRGO and LIGO.

Professor Hough said: “2016 has been fantastic year for the field of astrophysics. After beginning the year working on the gravitational waves discovery announcement, it’s a surprise but a tremendous honour to be ending it as the recipient of a Royal Medal.

“I find myself in very good company alongside some highly distinguished scientists, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work in 2017 and beyond.”

Professor Sheila Rowan, director of the University’s Institute for Gravitational Research, said: “This a richly-deserved award for Jim and I’m very pleased and proud to see him receive it. He has worked very hard across his entire career to help develop equipment capable of detecting gravitational waves.

“The first detection last year absolutely proved that his firmly-held conviction that detection was possible was correct. As a result, we’re now at the start of an exciting new chapter in astrophysics, with a whole new way of exploring our cosmos.”


First published: 12 December 2016