UCL Department of Space and Climate Physics


MSSL team gathers to celebrate outstanding achievements

7 January 2021

On Wednesday 18th November staff and students from across UCL’s Department of Space and Climate Physics gathered by Zoom to recognise the efforts of outstanding people, nominated by members of the Department.

Covid-19 has brought many changes to the world in 2020 and the annual MSSL Awards ceremony was not immune to its influence. On Wednesday 18th November staff and students from across UCL’s Department of Space and Climate Physics gathered by Zoom to recognise the efforts of outstanding people, nominated by members of the Department. This annual ceremony honours the memory of former colleagues and showcases excellence across the Department. A diverse 9-member Awards Panel with representation from several different parts of the Department was assembled to select the Award Winners. Due to this year’s event being held on-line, members of the Boyd, Johnstone, Raymont and Puchnarewicz families were able to join us from around the world to present the awards and appreciate the work of the recipients.


Robert Boyd Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement

Robert Boyd Award winner William Dunn
The Robert Boyd Award was presented to William Dunn, a post-doctoral researcher in the Planetary Science Group. His work focuses on utilising X-ray observatories to study planetary bodies and particularly their aurorae. Over the last 4 years, he acquired an unprecedented planetary observation data set, totalling hundreds of hours of competitive observation time on flagship NASA and ESA space telescopes. He has developed a large network of collaborators, who contribute observations and scientific expertise in other wavelength bands, such as UV, IR and radio, as well as in situ measurements from the Juno mission. In 2020, this enabled his involvement in more than 25 in-review and published papers, of which he led 5. This work has contributed to a much improved understanding of Jupiter’s clockwork-like auroral flares and enabled the discovery of X-ray emission from Uranus, a possible target for future missions.


Alan Johnston Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement by a Research Student

Alan Johnstone award winner Tom Kimpson
The Alan Johnstone Award was awarded to Tom Kimpson, a student in the Astrophysics Group. Tom’s research in the general relativistic astrophysics and gravitational wave physics of binaries containing a massive black hole and a milli-second pulsar is at the forefront of gravitational wave physics and multi-messenger astrophysics. His studies focussed on the orbital dynamics, generation of gravitational waves, and propagation of electromagnetic waves in gravity from these extreme systems. His work includes predictions that are testable using very high precision measurements in gravitational wave experiments and in pulsar timing observations. In the year 2019-20 his research produced five published research papers, four in MNRAS and one that has been submitted to A&A.


John Raymont Award for Outstanding Commitment to MSSL’s Technology Programme

John Raymont award winner Gethyn Lewis
The John Raymont Award went to Gethyn Lewis, Operations Manager for Solar Orbiter SWA and Senior Research Associate in the In-situ Instruments Group. He won the award for outstanding dedication to the SO SWA program, in delivering the pre-launch AIT program, in overseeing the preparation of the MSSL and SWA operations team infrastructure and particularly in overseeing the completion of the SWA commissioning programme despite the difficulties of working within travel and site access restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 situation.  SWA is a key instrument suite for the Solar Orbiter mission, which has occupied MSSL technical staff for much of the last 15 years, so this outstanding contribution cemented a solid outcome from a major MSSL program. 


Elizabeth Puchnarewicz Award for Outstanding Contribution to Public Outreach

Elizabeth Puchnarewicz Award winner Choong Ling Liew-Cain
The Elizabeth Puchnarewicz Award was won by Choong Ling Liew-Cain, a 2nd year student in the Astrophysics Group for her many excellent contributions in public engagement. She won a bursary for her project “Stargazing at Mullard Space Science Laboratory” and used it to buy a telescope and VR headsets. She has run a machine learning project of galaxy morphology for 20 secondary school children, organised MSSL “open evenings” attracting 150 people, delivered a project as part of the MSSL work experience week, and arranged a public engagement training course at MSSL. During lockdown, she didn’t slow down; she gave on-line talks to schools in North America, delivered the first student talk in the UCL Space Domain 1 O’Clock lecture series, participated in “Soapbox Science” 2020 and made a YouTube video about galaxy formation and evolution.


Directors Award

Director's Award winner Philippa Elwell
The Director’s Award was presented to Philippa Elwell, Senior Administrator for Postgraduate Teaching and Learning in recognition of her excellent work to support our PhD students both as individuals and administratively. She has improved documentation and processes, and feedback shows that she helps makes a strong favourable impression on students who are deciding whether to accept our PhD offer. She also made key contributions to the Department’s successful application for Institute of Physics Juno Practitioner status. When Ariel House was required to close as part of the UCL COVID-19 closure, Philippa took personal responsibility for making sure that all the students moved to a safe place, helping individuals who needed support. During the lockdown, Philippa kept in touch with students to see how they were doing, check how supervision was going and to make sure that we were aware of any difficulties.


Director’s Special Award for an Exceptional Contribution to our COVID-19 Response

After reviewing the nominations this year, the panel recommended a special Director’s award to be presented to several staff to reflect the enormous efforts made to help work to continue smoothly through the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Colin Wehrle, Deputy Departmental Safety Officer was among the very few staff allowed to remain on site after the building closures in March 2020  helping to keep things running smoothly. He played a very important role in developing our plans for re-opening the site as a COVID-secure workplace, and then putting those plans into practice, helping to give our key engineering staff the confidence that they could safely return to work at MSSL. The Education Team of Helena Andres Hilarion, Elizabeth Hudson, Benoit Pigneur, Raul Leal, Natasha Magennis, Giles Poulsom, Ian Raper, Katrina Walker, Philippa Elwell, Peipei Zhang and Dimitra Stamogiannou had to quickly adapt to teaching online, conducting assessments online, and using new platforms for delivering teaching and assessments.  Changes and adaptations which ordinarily would have been introduced gradually over a course of a year were made over a course of weeks.  The team showed incredible resilience and testament to this is the fact that the delivery of teaching continued apparently seamlessly from the perspective of the students.