IOP awards for 2015 include Isaac Newton Medal for Eli Yablonovitch

1 July 2015

The Institute’s highest accolade, the Isaac Newton Medal, has been awarded to Professor Eli Yablonovitch, who is among 17 award winners for 2015 announced by the IOP today.

Professor Eli Yablonovitch

Prof. Yablonovitch, of the University of California, Berkeley, receives the Isaac Newton Medal and Prize – the IOP’s International award – for “his visionary and foundational contributions to photonic nanostructures”, which have spawned an entirely new research field now known as photonic crystals, his citation says.

Prof. Yablonovitch said of the decision to award the medal to him: “I am deeply honoured, and humbled by the great distinction of the previous winners.”

Asked which aspects of his work pleased him the most, he said: “I am most proud of catching physical insights that had been overlooked by the field, and were long overdue.” He added: “It is wonderful to weave fundamental physics together with applications. Truly useful applied work must rely upon new fundamental physical understanding. I am happy to see some of those innovations in very widespread technical use.”

Looking to the future, he said: “Humanity needs a replacement for the transistor in information processing that can be orders of magnitude more energy efficient. Science is on the verge of recreating the entire energy system, employing ever-cheaper photovoltaic panels. This will eventually produce hydrocarbon fuels that will be competitive with fuels extracted from the ground.”

Photonic crystals are periodic optical nanostructures and function as semiconductors for light. They are called “crystals” because of their periodicity and “photonic” because they act on light. They have a band gap that allows only some wavelengths of light to pass, allowing unprecedented control over light’s behaviour, which can be used to make it travel in a designated route. They can be found in nature and contribute to the iridescence of certain butterfly wings and the camouflage skills of chameleons.

As the citation reads: “Photonic crystals have caused a true paradigm shift in photonics, based on their ability to control the flow of light to an extent that was hitherto unthinkable. As a result, photonic crystals are now being used in research areas as diverse as quantum computation, nanoscale imaging and sensing, photovoltaics, optical interconnects, and high performance light-emitting diodes.”

This year’s Gold medal winners are Prof. John Barrow of the University of Cambridge for his combination of mathematical and physical reasoning to increase our understanding of the evolution of the universe; Prof. Henning Sirringhaus, also of the University of Cambridge, for transforming our knowledge of charge transport phenomena in organic semiconductors and our ability to exploit them; Prof. Iain Baikie of KP Technology Ltd for his contributions to the development of Kelvin Probe method instrumentation; and Prof. Sir Tejinder Virdee from Imperial College London for his leadership of the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment at the Large Hadron Collider.

Prof. Chris Lintott of the University of Oxford receives the Kelvin Medal for his major contributions to public engagement with science through conventional media (especially through television such as presenting BBC’s The Sky at Night) and by leading citizen science projects through Zooniverse, “opening a new chapter in the history of science by enabling hundreds of thousands of people to participate in the process of scientific discovery”, his citation says.

Prof. Paula Chadwick from the University of Durham is awarded the Bragg Medal for the successful development of a UK-wide scheme, Group Industrial Physics, to engage physics undergraduates with industry.

Subject medals were awarded to Prof. Amanda Cooper-Sarkar (Chadwick Medal); Prof. Judith Driscoll (Joule Medal); Prof. Valery Nakariakov (Payne-Gaposchkin Medal); Prof. Chris Pickard (Rayleigh Medal); Prof. John Saunders (Mott Medal); Prof. Geoffrey Thornton (Tabor Medal) and Prof. Nikolay Zheludev (Young Medal). Early Career medals were awarded to Clare Burrage (Maxwell Medal); Edmund Kelleher (Paterson Medal) and Rahul Raveendran (Moseley Medal).

Prof. Yablonovitch will be visiting London on 6 November to deliver the Newton Lecture. See the full list of winners and short citations.