11 July 2018
Professor Bobby Acharya wins IOP's Lawrence Bragg Medal and Prize 2018
Professor Bobby Acharya, Department of Physics, has been awarded the Institute of Physics’ Lawrence Bragg Medal and Prize 2018, one of its Gold Medals for outstanding and sustained contributions.
Bobby has been awarded the prize for his work as the driver of several projects to teach and promote physics in the developing world, with the ultimate aim of developing sustainable physics research in those countries.
A leading researcher in string theory and in the phenomenology of models derived from M-theory, Bobby creates educational opportunities in the developing world, developing local sustainability and involving a high ratio of women in these educational activities.
Born in Uganda to a family of Indian origin, later expelled from the country by military dictator Idi Amin, Bobby is passionate about combatting the disadvantages that young scientists in developing countries can face in establishing their careers.Some of his most significant achievements in outreach are outlined below:
• ATLAS at ICTP
Bobby Acharya realised that CERN could place students from the developing world into international teams. In 2006, he set up an ICTP group, in close collaboration with the INFN and the University of Udine, which is still actively working on the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider. More than 50% of Acharya's PhD students and postdocs emerged from this route, with most still working in the field.
• Teaching and training in Palestine
In 2013, Acharya started an annual course at Birzeit University in the West Bank. This 45-hour particle physics course is taught to Masters students, assisted by postdoc volunteers. The course is extremely successful, with grades significantly higher than those of equivalent UK students. Most of the students are female, several now undertaking PhDs in well-recognised European groups. Some work on the SESAME synchrotron in Jordan. As a direct result of this work, the number of Palestinian CERN users increased from one in 2010 to seven in 2016. There is now a dozen-strong particle physics network in Palestine.
• Physics Without Frontiers
The Palestinian model is portable - with postdoc volunteers based in the country, lectures are delivered live via internet video. Acharya, with Dr Kate Shaw, organises and offers similar courses throughout the developing world. Successful courses in Tunisia, Venezuela and Nepal are being followed by many more under ICTP's ‘Physics without Frontiers’ programme, coordinated by Acharya and Shaw. Programmes include masterclasses for budding scientists - and these have taken place in Algeria, Colombia, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Nepal, Venezuela and Vietnam - using postdocs from the host countries.
• The African School of Fundamental Physics and Applications
This one-month graduate summer school occurs biannually in a different African country. The idea was conceived in 2008 by Acharya and Ketevi Assamagan at Brookhaven National Laboratory in the US, and provides courses in fundamental physics and applications to the brightest young African physicists, with the students 100% sponsored. Schools have been in South Africa, Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, and Namibia in 2018. Around 65 students from all over Africa attend these schools, more than 30% of whom are female.
Speaking about his achievement, Bobby said:"I am deeply honoured to have received this award. It really is wonderful to have these projects recognised in this way. I only hope that this might encourage other physicists and academics to start or get involved with projects involving students and young researchers in developing countries. Imagine, if every other academic based in Europe and North America taught one course per year to students in a developing country, the eventual impact from the knowledge transfer at various levels would be enormous."
Commenting on the 2018 awards, IOP President, Professor Dame Julia Higgins, said: “It is a pleasure for me to recognise and celebrate today exceptional physics by exceptional individuals.
“This is how IOP - representing the whole physics community - honours those who produce the very best work. And it is this work that directly contributes to our economy, our everyday lives and towards tackling some of the biggest challenges we face in society.
“I would like to offer my warmest congratulations to all our winners.”