2019 Sam Edwards Medal and Prize
Professor Wilson Poon for his outstanding contributions to the fundamental study of condensed matter physics, statistical physics and biophysics using model colloidal systems.
Wilson Poon is one of the most outstanding experimental soft-matter physicists of his generation.
He has the knack of asking simple yet profound questions about the nature of condensed matter and biological systems and addressing these through a combination of deep theoretical insight and beautiful experiments on well-characterised model systems.
Poon is internationally known for his groundbreaking research on colloid physics. Building on the pioneering work of Peter Pusey, he was one of the first scientists to recognise in the early 1990s the potential of combining hard-sphere colloids with depletion interactions to create model systems with fully tuneable interactions.
Using these beautiful systems, Poon, together with collaborators Stefan Egelhaaf, Peter Pusey, Mike Cates, Henk Lekerkerker and Emanuela Zaccarelli, addressed fundamental questions in condensed matter physics such as the nature of the liquid state and of kinetic arrest in glasses and gels.
Poon began working on biophysics from around 2005. Since that time, his work on active particles, including both bacteria such as Escherichia coli and synthetic colloidal swimmers, has provided impetus for theory development in the frontier area of non-equilibrium statistical mechanics and thrown light on practically important biological phenomena such as the growth of biofilms.
He has also recently conducted pioneering work on the rheology of dense, non-Brownian suspensions, an industrially very important but poorly-understood class of soft materials. In the last five years alone, he has published 13 high impact papers (Nature Communications, Science Advances, PNAS, PRL) in these new research areas.
Some of these have originated from industrial collaborations through the Edinburgh Complex Fluids Partnership (ECFP). Set up by Poon in 2012, ECFP has now worked with more than 40 companies in multiple sectors, demonstrating the practical utility of ‘model systems’ and the fecundity of industrial collaborations for generating basic science.
He has been recognised for his work through numerous awards, including: Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, EPSRC Senior Research Fellowship, and Royal Society Wolfson Merit Award. This year, he is also the Thomas Graham Lecturer of the Royal Society of Chemistry/Society of Chemical Industry. He has been a joint principal investigator on three large EPSRC programme grants on soft matter and the holder of an ERC Advanced Grant on the physics of active particles.
For his sustained and outstanding contributions in soft condensed matter, statistical physics and biological physics, Poon is a remarkable scientist.