14 September 2010

UNESCO's Niels Bohr Gold Medal awarded to prominent physicists

Gold medal

Three of the world’s leading researchers were awarded the UNESCO Niels Bohr Gold Medal today for their special contribution to groundbreaking research in physics. The three researchers are John Pendry from Imperial College in London, Professor Timothy Berners-Lee from MIT, Boston and Professor Kip S. Thorne from Caltech, Pasadena. All three are Nobel Prize class researchers.

UNESCO Niels Bohr Gold MedalUNESCO is the United Nations organization for education, culture and science and works to promote peace and education in the world. The UNESCO Niels Bohr Gold Medal was established in 1985 to commemorate the centenary of Niels Bohr’s birth and was given out in 1998, 2005 and now in 2010.  The medal is awarded to researchers who have made outstanding contributions to physics – research which, furthermore, has or could have a significant influence on the world. 

The special committee of highly esteemed physicists with professor Jens Jørgen Gaardhøje, Niels Bohr Institute, as chair, has selected three researchers for this year’s UNESCO Niels Bohr Gold Medal.

Professor Sir John Pendry, Imperial College, London is receiving the medal for his groundbreaking contributions to the development of meta-materials, i.e. materials with significant and new, unusual optical properties. An example is materials with negative refractive indexes, which can then become 'invisible'. This particular phenomenon is called cloaking.

Professor Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston was responsible for the development of hypertext, the World Wide Web and hence the foundation for the modern internet. His research has had an enormous impact on the entire global communication system and the modern information society, which has changed daily life and the lives of most of the Earth’s population. 

Professor Kip Stephen Thorne, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena has made pioneering contributions to the study of black holes and gravitational waves. He has spearheaded the efforts to look experimentally for gravitational waves, which could tell about violent events in the universe. Thorne has worked closely with John Wheeler, who was a co-author to Niels Bohr’s groundbreaking article on nuclear fission in 1939. 

The Gold Medals are provided by Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova and handed out at Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters in Copenhagen, where the Minister for Education Tina Nedergaard and UNESCO Deputy Director-General Getachew Engida will present the medals.

The UNESCO Niels Bohr Gold Medal has previously been awarded to:

Martin Rees, Cambridge University in England for his outstanding contributions to modern astrophysics and especially the understanding of gamma ray bursts, super massive black holes and the cosmic microwave radiation. 

Herwig Schopper, CERN in Switzerland for his contributions to the development of particle accelerators for nuclear physics research and the global international research which is the basis for the research at CERN.

Peter Zoller, Innsbruck in Austria for his research in quantum optics and his pioneering work with the theory of entanglement and its importance for future quantum computers and quantum communication.

Vitaly Ginzburg, Physical Institute in Moscow for the development of materials with superconducting properties, which at extremely low temperatures allow electric current to pass without resistance.

Walter Kohn, University of California for the development of a method for calculating the electronic properties of semiconducting and superconducting materials and the electronic structures in solid state physics.

Both Vitaly Ginzburg and Walter Kohn have subsequently received the Nobel Prize. While Martin Rees has received the Swedish Crafoord Prize, considered an unofficial Nobel Prize within, among other fields, astrophysics and geophysics.