2023 Fred Hoyle Medal and Prize
Professor Carole Mundell for the groundbreaking discovery of the critical role of magnetic fields in black-hole driven explosions and for pioneering novel astrophysical polarimetry of gamma ray bursts to probe the dynamic universe.
Professor Carole Mundell is a groundbreaking astrophysicist, an outstanding role model and communicator of science to the public, and an international leader in science policy. She is President of the UK’s Science Council and was named honorary fellow of the British Science Association in 2022. Mundell works at the interface of observation, theory and technology. She has pushed the frontiers of technology to open new windows on the cosmos to test long-standing theoretical predictions in extragalactic astrophysics and probe the black-hole driven, dynamic universe.
Mundell’s early research into radio interferometry spectroscopy for weak radio-emitting sources made the first direct detection of atomic hydrogen gas orbiting a supermassive black hole at the centre of an active galaxy; the theoretically predicted ‘obscuring torus’ in active galactic nuclei. Her subsequent groundbreaking dynamical discovery of velocity jumps in gas in a barred galaxy verified the 30-year-long theoretical prediction that dust lanes in galaxies represented shocks in gas flows, opening a new mechanism for fuelling central black holes.
Mundell founded and led an international team who pioneered novel, real-time autonomous rapid measurements of polarised optical light from gamma ray bursts (GRBs), the most power explosions in the universe, to make breakthrough discoveries that proved the relativistic plasma ejected in the explosive formation of stellar-mass black holes is threaded with stable, large-scale ordered magnetic fields that focus and accelerate these remarkable jets of ultrafast plasmas. This novel series of RINGO polarimeters developed remain the state-of-the-art in minutes-fast autonomous polarimetry in response to real-time satellite discoveries of new GRBs. They have probed the very earliest evolution of cosmic magnetic fields and shown their collapse can power the highest energy (TeV). Her team has also made the first early detection of a delayed-collapse black hole formed in the collision of two neutron stars, and identified a new thermal optical radiation signal that could act as an alternative, scalable tracer of gravitational-wave sources for discovery with future space satellites.
Mundell has served as Hiroko Sherwin Professor of Extragalactic Astronomy and Head of Astrophysics at the University of Bath. She was Chief Scientific Adviser at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and became the UK’s first Chief International Science Envoy (2019–2021). In 2023, she became the first woman to hold the role of Director of Science at the European Space Agency and Head of the European Space Astronomy Centre.