IOP awards Isaac Newton Medal to Charles L Bennett and announces 20 other winners

30 June 2017

The Isaac Newton Medal and Prize – the Institute of Physics’s highest accolade – has been awarded to eminent cosmologist Professor Charles L Bennett, who is among 21 award winners announced by the IOP today.

IOP awards Isaac Newton Medal to Charles L Bennett and announces 20 other winners


The Isaac Newton Medal is the IOP’s international prize and is given for world-leading contributions to physics. It has been awarded to Professor Bennett for his leadership of the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) mission, a satellite experiment that measured temperature differences in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) to an extremely high level of precision.

WMAP ran from 2001 to 2010 and followed on from the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) mission, in which Bennett played a critical role in the Differential Microwave Radiometers instrument.

“The WMAP mission was proposed to NASA to answer questions that were left unanswered by COBE,” Bennett explained. “COBE measured with a precision of seven degrees. It measured one of six key cosmological parameters: the amplitude of early universe fluctuations. To measure the other five required higher resolution and more sensitive instruments. WMAP’s main goal was to measure down to the 0.2 degree scale to observe the interactions of close (less than one degree) patches on the sky and to re-measure the COBE fluctuation with much greater sensitivity.”

IOP awards Isaac Newton Medal to Charles L Bennett and announces 20 other winners

The IOP’s citation for the prize says that WMAP has revolutionised our understanding of the universe, providing a picture of the cosmos that few could have imagined even 15 years ago. “Its measurements provided incontrovertible evidence for the existence of dark energy and for the nonbaryonic nature of the dark matter known to hold galaxies together. It determined with unprecedented precision the abundance of baryonic matter and provided the first empirical evidence for the cosmic neutrino background,” it says.

Its measurements also initiated the first serious tests of inflation and determined the epoch at which the first significant population of stars formed, and its data has been used in studying gravitational lensing, non-Gaussianity, cosmological birefringence, and the thermal history of the intergalactic medium.

Bennett’s heading of WMAP was “a masterpiece of scientific vision and leadership” it says.

Bennett is Bloomberg Distinguished Professor, Alumni Centennial Professor, and a Johns Hopkins University Gilman Scholar in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, with a joint appointment at the Applied Physics Laboratory, at Johns Hopkins University.

Speaking of the award, he said: “I am sincerely honoured to receive the Isaac Newton Medal and Prize. It is humbling to be selected, especially as the previous awardees are all of great distinction.”

Bennett will be visiting London to deliver the Isaac Newton Lecture on 8 November 2017.

The IOP also announced the winners of six Gold medals, 10 Subject Awards and four Early Career Awards, all of which are detailed on the IOP’s website.

IOP awards Isaac Newton Medal to Charles L Bennett and announces 20 other winners

The Gold medals awarded were the Paul Dirac Medal and Prize to Professor Michael Duff of Imperial College London; the Katharine Burr Blodgett Medal and Prize to Professor Cliff Jones of the University of Leeds; the Michael Faraday Medal and Prize to Professor Jeremy J Baumberg of the University of Cambridge; the Lawrence Bragg Medal and Prize to Mary Whitehouse of the University of York; the Richard Glazebrook Medal and Prize to Professor David Charlton of the University of Birmingham; and the William Thomson, Lord Kelvin Medal and Prize to Wendy Sadler of Science Made Simple, Cardiff University.

This year’s portfolio of awards has been expanded to include five new medals, better reflecting the breadth of endeavour across physics education, outreach, research and the application of physics in an industrial context. The number of nominations received was at a record level this year, and average nominations per medal were higher than ever.

Commenting on the awards, IOP 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.

“My warmest congratulations go out to all the winners.”

All of the award winners will be celebrated at the Institute’s Awards Dinner in London on 7 November.