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Culture, history and society

2020 Michael Faraday Medal and Prize

Professor Richard Ellis for over 35 years of pioneering contributions in faint-object astronomy, often with instruments he funded and constructed, which have opened up the early universe to direct observations.


Professor Richard Ellis 2020 Michael Faraday Medal and Prize winner

Professor Richard Ellis’ track record in exploring the high redshift universe and how galaxies evolved over cosmic history is unsurpassed in its distinction.

His relentless efforts to push to earlier epochs through faint-object spectroscopy and the use of gravitational lensing have inspired generations of young observers who follow in his path.

He pioneered many of the methods now in common use within the community.

His early work showed an excess of faint galaxies compared to the predictions of a non-evolving population and, recognising the important role of spectroscopy, he initiated a series of innovative multi-fibre and multi-slit spectrographs that made Ellis the leading authority on the properties of early galaxies.

Subsequently, using the Hubble, Keck and European VLT telescopes, Ellis extended our horizons by undertaking the most ambitious galaxy surveys to date.

Via heroic exposures he demonstrated the evolution of galaxies back to less than 300 million years after the big bang.

The resolution of the faint-blue galaxy problem led to the concept of mass-dependent assembly and morphological and size evolution. These concepts are the forerunners of the now popular idea of galactic feedback.

This set the stage for his pioneering studies of the reionisation era during which the universe transitioned from a dark medium filled with neutral hydrogen clouds to a transparent one that is fully ionised.

His work has delineated when reionisation occurred and provided a sound basis for how early galaxies enabled it.

Most recently he and colleagues have provided the first glimpse of cosmic dawn when the first galaxies emerged from darkness.

Ellis is also an accomplished mentor of young researchers and a visionary who has championed the case for many international astronomical facilities, including the James Webb Space Telescope shortly to be launched.

Ellis is unparalleled in his achievements and leadership in exploring previously uncharted eras of cosmic history.