IOP awards Isaac Newton Medal posthumously to Sir Tom Kibble

30 June 2016

The Isaac Newton Medal and Prize, the highest accolade offered by the Institute of Physics, has been awarded posthumously to Professor Sir Tom Kibble for his outstanding lifelong commitment to physics.

IOP awards Isaac Newton Medal posthumously to Sir Tom Kibble
Imperial College London

The IOP’s Awards Committee decided at its meeting in early May that the prize should go to Sir Tom Kibble, a few weeks before the Institute heard the sad news of his death on 2 June. The Institute announced the award today together with 15 other IOP medals.

Kibble, renowned throughout the physics community as a dedicated and passionate theoretical physicist, paved the way for some of the greatest discoveries within physics. His work reshaped the landscape of theoretical physics and catalysed the development of astroparticle physics.

Kibble’s proposal of the Higgs mechanism, the way in which particles acquire mass, was ground-breaking and proved to be a key feature in the standard model of particle physics. His seminal paper that first introduced the concept of the Higgs mechanism was recently heralded by Physics Review Letters as one of the most important research papers of the past 50 years.

He has been awarded the prize “for developing the theory of symmetry-breaking in quantum field theory, which has led to quantitative models for the origin of the masses of elementary particles, together with experimentally verified applications to soliton formation, and models for structure formation in the early universe”, a summary of his citations says.

Kibble was made a fellow of the Royal Society by the age of 48, was awarded an OBE and was knighted in 2014 for services to physics. He also received several prizes for physics and was made an honorary fellow of the IOP in 2012.

The IOP’s president, Professor Roy Sambles, said: “As one of the key theoretical physicists in the UK in the 20th century Professor Kibble was held in very high esteem by the UK and worldwide physics community.

“It is absolutely right that he should receive our highest award, the Isaac Newton Medal, in recognition of his contributions to mankind through his insight into the origins of mass and also through establishing astroparticle physics as a new branch of physics.

“Notwithstanding his achievements, he remained a modest man of quiet distinction and dignity, respected by all who knew him, the many students he lectured and supervised and the academics he collaborated with. In very many ways he was an example not just of how to be an excellent creative scientist but how to behave towards others.

“He is a truly outstanding winner of the Isaac Newton Medal. He will be sadly missed and we express our heartfelt condolences to his family.”

The Isaac Newton Medal is awarded to individuals who have made significant contributions to physics in their lifetime, and previous recipients have included Sir John Pendry, Professor Eli Yablonovitch and Professor Martin Rees.

The posthumous award of the prize to Kibble will be marked at the IOP’s Awards Dinner on 29 November, when the other 15 medals being announced today will be presented. They include four Gold medals which, after the Issac Newton Medal, are the most prestigious of those awarded by the Institute: the Dirac Medal, the Faraday Medal, the Glazebrook Medal and the Swan Medal.

The Dirac Medal has been awarded to Professor Sandu Popescu of the University of Bristol, for “his fundamental and influential research into nonlocality and his contribution to the foundations of quantum physics”. Sambles said that his work on quantum teleportation in particular was “set to inspire and motivate generations of physicists to come”.

The winner of the Faraday Medal, Professor Jenny Nelson of Imperial College London, receives the award for “her pioneering advances in the science of nanostructured and molecular semiconductor materials”. Sambles said that Nelson’s influence in her field was exceptional. “She has driven progression in solar cell development...  and she appears set to shape the advancement of these renewable energy sources for years to come,” he said.

The Glazebrook Medal has been awarded to Dr Hugh Elliot Montgomery for “his leadership at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility and distinguished research in high-energy physics”. Sambles commented that Montgomery’s ability to inspire and lead other physicists was exemplary and now as director of the US-based facility he had “continued to demonstrate his impressive leadership capabilities”.

The winner of the Swan Medal, Dr Graeme Malcolm, receives the award for “his role in founding M Squared Lasers, and his contribution to the design and manufacture of transformative award-winning photonics products”. Sambles commented that “the revolutionary technology M Squared develops has global impact” and that this was in no small part due to Malcolm’s drive and commitment to his work.

The medals also include six Subject Awards to recognise outstanding researchers in particular fields, two Education and Outreach medals for contributions to widening participation within physics education and public engagement, and three Early Career medals, for physicists who are still in early career but have already experienced considerable success.

See the full list of winners and short citations.