UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


Five UCL academics receive prestigious physics prizes

29 November 2021

Five UCL academics have been awarded prizes and medals from the Institute of Physics in recognition of their outstanding contributions to physics and public engagement.

Five UCL academics receive prestigious physics prizes

Professor Polina Bayvel (UCL Electronic & Electrical Engineering) was awarded the 2021 Thomas Young Medal and Prize for distinguished contributions to the field of optical communications.

Professor Bayvel is Head of the Optical Networks Group at UCL, which she set up in 1994, and has been at the forefront of developing optical fibre networks that transport vast quantities of data around the world.

Professor Bayvel has made fundamental contributions to the physics and design of advanced high-bandwidth, multi-wavelength optical communications systems, achieving new world records in data transmission speeds over short and long distances.

Professor Carla Figueira De Morisson Faria (UCL Physics & Astronomy) was awarded the 2021 Joseph Thomson Medal and Prize for her distinguished contributions to the theory of strong-field laser-matter interactions – that is, looking at how matter interacts with extremely strong lasers over a period of attoseconds (one quintillionth of a second).

As the award citation noted, Professor Faria has broken new ground as a world-leading physicist in the field. Her development of semi-analytical models, which brought together attoscience and mathematical physics, have provided vital tools to the physics community, while students she has supervised have won around 20 local, national and international prizes.

Professor Brian F Hutton (UCL Institute of Nuclear Medicine) was awarded the 2021 Peter Mansfield Medal and Prize for his distinguished contributions to the field of medical physics, in this case applied to nuclear medicine.

The citation said he had consistently pushed boundaries of what is achievable in nuclear medicine imaging, both in terms of imaging instrumentation and data processing, with innovations that have underpinned improvements in diagnostic accuracy and therapeutic effectiveness, both in research and clinical practice.

The award celebrated his contributions to single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT*) as well as to image reconstruction and multimodality imaging, and to providing training in the field around the globe.

Professor Raman Prinja, who is head of the UCL Department of Physics & Astronomy, was awarded the 2021 Lise Meitner Medal and Prize for his distinguished contributions in engaging and inspiring children in physics, including through his inspirational books, lectures and interactive science events.

The citation noted that his award-winning books had been consistently loaned over 10,000 times a year from UK libraries and that, since his books were often found in schools, they had likely had an influence on millions of children around the world.

Professor Prinja’s latest book Planetarium, co-curated with artist Chris Wormell, won the Royal Society’s Young People’s Book Prize. Two new books, Wonders of the Night Sky and The Future of the Universe, are scheduled to be published next year.

Dr Ying Lia Li (UCL Physics & Astronomy) was awarded the 2021 Clifford Paterson Medal and Prize for combining her quantum sensing research with her industrial experience in silicon chips to create a pioneering startup, Zero Point Motion, and for her drive to build a better and more supportive research community.

Dr Li is a leading researcher in quantum sensing and optomechanics (the use of laser light to control the motion of mechanical vibration). Her quantum sensors, potentially 10,000 times more sensitive than current motion sensors in smartphones, will enable precise position sensing when GPS is unavailable, for example within indoor or underground environments.

The citation praised Dr Li for being an advocate of equity in science. She led the Women in Physics group at UCL between 2017 and 2019 and is currently a member of UCL’s Race Equality Steering Group.

The Institute of Physics (IOP) is the professional body and learned society for physics, and the leading body for practicing physicists, in the UK and Ireland. 

The IOP annual awards celebrate excellence in physics across research, education, outreach, and application and proudly reflect the wide variety of people, places, organisations, and achievements that make physics such an exciting discipline. 

Professor David Price, UCL Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation & Global Engagement), said: “I congratulate those colleagues whose ground-breaking research and related activities have been deservedly celebrated by these prestigious awards. It is striking that UCL’s capability in and contribution to the discipline of physics spans such a diverse set of activities: from optical communications, semi-analytical modelling and quantum sensing imaging, to nuclear medicine and engagement with young people.”

Congratulating this year’s award winners, Institute of Physics President, Professor Sheila Rowan, said: “On behalf of the Institute of Physics, I warmly congratulate all of this year’s award winners. Each and every one of them has made a significant and positive impact in their profession, whether as a researcher, teacher, industrialist, technician, or apprentice.  

“Recent events have underlined the absolute necessity to encourage and reward our scientists and those who teach and encourage future generations. We rely on their dedication and innovation to improve many aspects of the lives of individuals and of our wider society.” 

* SPECT measures the emitted radiation from an administered radioactive tracer to provide a 3D image that reflects the underlying function of normal and diseased tissues. 



  • Clockwise from top left: Professor Faria, Dr Li, Professor Bayvel, Professor Hutton, and Professor Prinja.

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Mark Greaves

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E: m.greaves [at] ucl.ac.uk