British scientists honoured
5 October 2005
British scientists did not feature in this year's Nobel prize for physics, but groundbreaking work in the UK was honoured by the Institute of Physics today.
Research that revealed for the first time that the Earth's core is almost as hot as the Sun, new work on cosmic strings and black hole, and a scientist who believes he can build a viable desktop quantum computer by 2010, were recognised by the institute. University College London (UCL) claimed two of the three awards.
Previous Institute of Physics award winners include Niels Bohr, Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose, Lord Rutherford, Max Planck and Fred Hoyle.
The 2006 Dirac medal, for theoretical physics, has been awarded to Mike Gillan from UCL, for his work in developing computer simulations. Professor Gillan's findings have since been applied to a huge variety of subjects including recent research which has helped scientists work out the exact conditions inside the Earth's core - essential for understanding how the surface of the Earth has evolved over time, and how the magnetic field, which shields us from the solar wind, is generated by the outer core, said the institute today.
Ruth Gregory, a young physicist from the University of Durham, has been awarded the 2006 Maxwell medal for her "outstanding work trying to understand the underlying structure of the universe". Working at the interface between general relativity and string theory, Dr Gregory has made important contributions to cosmic strings, black holes and brane worlds, said a statement from the institute. The name "brane", the website explains, is derived from membrane, is a 3-D model which says that all matter in the universe is trapped on a surface with three spatial dimensions, like dust particles on soap bubbles.
The 2006 Guthrie medal has been awarded to Marshall Stoneham, also from UCL, who believes he can build a viable desktop quantum computer by 2010.
Quantum computers have extraordinary potential, promising to crack complex codes and solve age-old mathematical puzzles, but prototype quantum computers fill entire rooms and have to be cooled to near absolute zero before they can be used. Professor Stoneham's work, which tries to marry the worlds of silicon chips and quantum computers, has allowed him to design a novel quantum computer which can be built with the tools currently available and should be powerful enough to do useful calculations, perhaps even at room temperature.
The Guthrie medal and prize has been awarded to Professor Stoneham for his wide-ranging theoretical work on defects in solids, in particular the consequences for the electronic properties of materials such as diamond and silicon.