The University of Southampton

Physics and Astronomy Emeritus Professor receives prestigious Royal Astronomical Society award

Published: 8 January 2016

Physics and Astronomy Emeritus Professor Betty Lanchester has received a prestigious Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) award.

Betty has been awarded the 2016 James Dungey Lectureship for her research into the magnificent phenomena of the aurora.

The RAS citation recognises Betty’s devotion to tackling many challenging questions including her pioneering investigations into the fine-scale auroral structure, and the relationship between these structures and the wider electrodynamics of the ionosphere-magnetosphere system.

The citation states: “Some of Betty’s most important results include observational evidence that dynamic auroral structures are associated with short-lived, intense and local electric fields. Her research has also demonstrated that most of the energy density in a bright auroral arc may lie within an extremely narrow filament formed by monoenergetic electron beams.”

The RAS praises Betty for her strong commitment to communicating her science to wider audiences, a commitment reflected when she was awarded the Southampton University Students’ Union Excellence in Teaching Award for best feedback provision.

The James Dungey Lectureship is awarded annually to a distinguished and eloquent speaker who will give the lecture on a topic in solar physics, solar-terrestrial physics or planetary sciences.

Betty said: “It is indeed a great honour to receive this award which bears the name of one of the most respected scientists in the field of solar-terrestrial relations.

“Jim Dungey, who died last year, was a pioneer with extraordinary insight into the physics of the processes occurring in the magnetic field surrounding the Earth. His work has had, and continues to have, enormous importance in my research into the aurora and its effects. I have also had the great good fortune and privilege to have worked with a team of very gifted scientists in this field, both colleagues and students, who have all contributed towards this award.”

Betty has had a long academic career at the University of Southampton. She joined in 1969 and spent a large part of her working life studying the effects in the upper atmosphere from particles that cause the aurora.

Since retiring from teaching she maintains an active research role as Emeritus Professor supporting the growing group of Space Environment Physics.

She said: “The aurora is a spectacle of great beauty but it is also an indicator of energy being transferred through the Earth’s magnetic field into the upper atmosphere. This ‘space weather’ can potentially cause major disruption to electric power transmission, damage to satellite instrumentation, and the heating up of the upper atmosphere that can affect satellite orbits.

“Our research in the Space Environment Physics group aims to understand many of these complex processes.”

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