Two UofG scientists honoured by the Royal Society

Published: 18 July 2019

Professor Sir James Hough and Professor Miles Padgett have been awarded medals by the Royal Society for their outstanding contributions to science.

Professor Sir James Hough and Professor Miles Padgett have been awarded medals by the Royal Society for their outstanding contributions to science.

They are two of 24 recipients announced today by the Royal Society in recognition of their exceptional research.

Professor Sir James Hough OBE FRS is awarded the Bakerian Medal and Lecture for his world-leading work on suspensions systems for the test masses used in laser interferometry, pivotal to the successful detection of gravitational waves.

Professor Miles Padgett FRS receives the Rumford Medal for “world-leading research on optical orbital momentum including an angular form of the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox”.

Professor Sir James Hough

James Hough

Sir James is a graduate of the University of Glasgow where he became Professor of Experimental Physics in 1986 and is the emeritus holder of the Kelvin Chair of Natural Philosophy.

His research interests are centred on Gravitational Wave Detection on ground (GEO 600 in Germany and Advanced LIGO in the USA) and for many decades he has been committed to leading research pivotal in confirming, on February 11, 2016, the last major prediction arising from Einstein's General Theory of Relativity - the existence of gravitational waves.

This discovery, in the 100th anniversary year of its first prediction, has opened an entirely new field in astronomy and astrophysics, revolutionising our ability to understand the Universe and capturing the public imagination.

He said: “Having worked on experiments to detect gravitational waves for close to 50 years, I am absolutely delighted and honoured to be awarded the Bakerian medal and lectureship by the Royal Society. This will give me an opportunity to explain the significance of the discovery to the broader scientific community.”

Sir James added: “The observation of gravitational wave signals demonstrated directly for the first time that black holes really exist and that they can orbit each other and coalesce – the stuff of science fiction culture! Our observations also demonstrated the existence of coalescing neutron stars, that these produce short bursts of gamma rays and are responsible for the formation of most of the heavy elements – like gold and platinum – in the Universe.

“Further, the spin-off from building the detectors has led to the ability to build more stable and robust optical systems for use on the ground and in space, the ability to cause stem cells to differentiate and aid the healing of fractured bones, and the production of miniature gravimeters for us in the oil and defence industry. All these areas are ongoing.”

For his wide-ranging research and advisory work he was awarded an OBE in the 2013 Queen’s Birthday Honours, the Phillips Award of the Institute of Physics in 2015 and Honorary Fellowship of the Institute of Physics in 2016. He is a recipient of a number of awards including the Royal Medal of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, and is a co-recipient of a number of other prizes including the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics and the Bruno Rossi Prize.

With more than 300 refereed journal publications to his name he is the initiator and director of the first International Max Planck Partnership worldwide. This partnership, between five Scottish Universities and five Max Planck Institutes in Germany, is centred on Observation and Measurement at the Quantum Limit and is planned to boost the academic and innovative impact of Scottish Physics in the area of quantum measurement and information.

Awarded a Knighthood in 2018 for his contribution to the detection of gravitational waves, he is currently a Research Professor in Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow.

Professor Miles Padgett

Miles Padgett largeProfessor Miles Padgett, the University of Glasgow’s Vice-Principal for Research, has been awarded the Rumford Medal - an award given to scientists regarded as outstanding in the field of physics.

Professor Padgett, who holds the Kelvin Chair of Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, leads a research group which covers a wide spectrum of activity ranging from blue-sky research to applied commercial development.

He is recognised for his leadership in the field of optics – in particular for studies of light’s momentum.

Professor Padgett said: “I think all scientists hope to have their work recognised by their peers – and I am honoured to having been done so in this way.  I recognise also that science is a team game and how fortunate I have been throughout my career to work with students, post-docs and other colleagues that have given so much and now are making such successes of their own careers.”

He added: “The turning point of my career, over 20 years ago, was the award of a Royal Society University Research Fellowship and I am forever in the Society’s debt.”

Professor Padgett’s contributions include:

  • The optical spanner I.e. the use of light’s torque to spin micron-sized objects within a microscope;
  • The use of light’s orbital angular momentum to increase the data capacity of communication systems; and
  • The demonstration of an angular form of the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) quantum paradox, confirming that angle is a quantum variable.

From 2015, Professor Padgett has been lead scientist of QuantIC, one of the UK’s four Quantum Technology Hubs. The focus of this hub is the application of quantum science to the development of new imaging systems; making the invisible visible.

His own immediate research contributions are pioneering light-shaping technologies to create low-cost cameras and the use of entangled photons in microscopy to beat classical imaging resolution and contrast limits.

In all of these aspects, the ethos of the Hub is to forge close links with UK-based industries and user groups to transform quantum science into commercial and societal benefit.

First published: 18 July 2019