2008 Hoyle medal and prize

Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson

Imperial College London

For his pioneering research in infrared and submillimetre astronomy, and observational cosmology.

The Hoyle medal and prize for distinguished research in astrophysics gravitational physics or cosmology has been awarded to Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson, Professor of Astrophysics in the Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College London, who for 40 years has been one of Europe’s leading figures in infrared and submillimetre astronomy, and observational cosmology.

Professor Rowan-Robinson had already made a substantial impact on astronomy by the early 1970s, through his work on the interpretation of radio-source counts and high-redshift quasars. At that time, he also wrote his first papers on the emission of infrared radiation from galactic dust and dust around stars and quasars. His calculations of radiative transfer were key to understanding the main populations of galaxies found in subsequent surveys of the sky at infrared wavelengths.

In 1984, Rowan-Robinson published an influential monograph, The Cosmological Distance Ladder, which assessed the various measurements of Hubble’s constant, and remains a landmark in observational cosmology.

From the 1980s onwards, Rowan-Robinson’s work focused on demonstrating the importance of infrared observations and analysis in galactic and extra-galactic astronomy.  He played a key role in the science exploitation of the Infra Red Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) and led the UK effort in ground-based follow-up of the IRAS survey, carrying out pioneering studies of bright infrared galaxies in the local Universe. Ten years later, he was able to expand this work to more distant galaxies surveyed in the Infrared Space Observatory (ISO) mission, and more recently in observations with the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope. Rowan-Robinson was also a leader in the first submillimetre deep surveys with the highly successful SCUBA camera on the James Maxwell Telescope on Hawaii.

As well providing new insights into the cosmological evolution of distant and dusty galaxies, Professor Rowan-Robinson has been an effective communicator of modern science, writing many popular books for a wide audience.