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Durham University News

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Outstanding recognition for Durham University's scientists

(30 June 2017)

Durham University’s outstanding achievements in science have been recognised with a series of awards.

Two of the University’s leading physicists have been awarded prestigious Institute of Physics Medals. 

Professor Tom McLeish is the first recipient of the Sam Edwards Medal while Department of Physics’ colleague Professor Nigel Glover is awarded the Lord Rayleigh Medal.

Soft Matter Physics

Professor McLeish’s medal is in recognition of his contribution to research in the field of soft matter and is named in honour of Professor Sir Sam Edwards, a pivotal figure in the creation of soft matter physics.

Soft matter physics looks at the fundamental understanding of materials such as polymers (plastics), colloids (milky fluids) and liquid crystals (such as switchable displays). It is now increasingly bringing physicists and biologists together, as well as being used to solve puzzles of living matter. 

Professor McLeish, a member of the Durham Centre for Soft Matter and Biophysical Sciences Institute, is renowned for increasing the understanding of the flow properties of molten or dissolved plastics (including providing new modelling tools for industry) and ‘self-assembling’ long chain biological molecules.

Professor McLeish, who was a post-doctoral researcher with Sir Sam in Cambridge from 1987-1989, said: “I am really overwhelmed to be the first recipient of the Sam Edwards medal. 

“Sam taught me most of what I know about physics, running teams and encouraging people, and working with industry too. He was at the same time a thoroughgoing lover of physics, and a dedicated interdisciplinary scientist, with an unmatched intuitive grasp of how mathematical physics works.”

Professor McLeish has made significant advances in modelling the structure and properties of complex entangled molecules, blends of substances that don't usually mix (like oil and water), and modelling micro-structures under flow. This enables scientists to easily predict complex fluid behaviour and processing in an industrial setting.

Professor McLeish works with multidisciplinary teams from across Physics, Chemistry, Biosciences, Mathematical Sciences and Engineering and Computing Sciences. Although his work is mostly theoretical he also works closely with colleagues carrying out experiments and working in industry. He chairs the unique Durham – Procter & Gamble (P&G) strategic partnership, and is currently working with Durham and P&G teams on the “migration” of small molecules in complex gels. His other interests include historical studies of medieval science, and he is a member of Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies.

Particle Physics

Professor Nigel Glover has been awarded the bi-annual Rayleigh Medal for pioneering work in applying the strong force to high-energy processes. 

The strong force is one of the four fundamental forces of nature, and is responsible for the formation of protons and neutrons, and how protons and neutrons bind together to make all of the elements like hydrogen andhelium. It also describes what happens when protons are collided together at very high energy, like at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Sometimes, these collisions create new particles (like the Higgs boson). Being able to predict accurately what should happen in these complicated collisions is crucial for identifying and interpreting the footprints of new physics.

Professor Glover is a member of Durham University’s Centre for Particle Theory, a former Director of the Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology, and leads several international projects funded by the European Union.

Professor Glover said: "It's a great honour to have received this prize. It is recognition of work done in Durham over the past 25 years, which has helped establish the Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology as a world centre for particle physics. 

“I have been really fortunate to have had many excellent students who came to Durham to study particle physics and have become long-time collaborators and lifelong friends."

Commenting on the awards, Institute of Physics president Professor Roy Sambles said: “These awards are a celebration and a recognition of excellent physics, by physicists - by which our community honours those who produce the very best work.

“It is brilliant to see the continued creativity and cutting edge endeavours across all areas of physics throughout the UK, Ireland and internationally. The quality of the work and those undertaking it indicates that we have a very bright future ahead of us.”

Recognition of strength and vitality of Durham’s science research

Durham University’s Faculty of Science has received a number of eminent awards this summer. Professor Karl Coleman, Department of Chemistry, received the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) Derek Birchall - Materials in Industry Award in recognition of his creativity and excellence in the application of materials chemistry in industry.

He said: “It was great to win the Materials for Industry Award and to follow up my Chemistry World Entrepreneur of the Year award that I won in 2011. It reflects the interest and excitement around nanocarbons, particularly graphene, and how far the area has progressed.

“I am excited to see what the future holds as graphene has so many potential future commercial applications, it’s almost scary! I look forward to working with new and existing partners in pushing the advancement of graphene and in new and current applications.”

Professor Coleman’s research is in nanomaterials and nanotechnology and he is a founder member of the Durham University spin-off company Applied Graphene Materials.

Professor Carlos Frenk, Director of the Institute for Computational Cosmology, was made a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in The Queen’s Birthday Honours List “for services to cosmology and the public dissemination of basic science”.

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