Celebrating science's 'unsung heroes'

11 March 2010

A technician who has made scientific instrumentation that has been sent into space since the earliest days of the ‘space age’ and a chemistry teacher who has inspired hundreds of postgraduates to do outreach work are just some of the individuals awarded a Royal Society Hauksbee Award last night (10 March 2010) at a special reception held at the Society’s London headquarters.

The Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, has created the new awards to recognise the unsung heroes of our science labs, research institutions and schools who work to support the UK science base. The awards are being made as part of the Society’s 350th Anniversary celebrations this year. Ten recipients  each received a Royal Society engraved bronze medal, scroll and £500 at the ceremony last night.

Trevor Beek, one of the recipients, started his career at Imperial College London working on support and test equipment for three particle-detector instruments flown on the ESRO-2 spacecraft, the first satellite to be launched by Europe, in May 1968. These instruments, the first to be designed and built in Europe, investigated the near- Earth space environment and the variability of this environment due to solar effects, so constituted early examples of investigations of what has become the still highly topical “space weather” research.

Among his many achievements over the years, the Ulysses spacecraft launched in 1990 carried an Imperial-led magnetometer, the power-supply for which was entirely designed, built and tested by Trevor. The magnetometer data has revolutionised our understanding of the Sun’s magnetic field and certainly more than 500 peer-reviewed publications have relied on the use of the magnetometer data.

 At present Trevor is designing power circuits for two future missions: the BepiColombo spacecraft will be launched to Mercury in 2014, and the Solar Orbiter mission which will go into a low-solar orbit in 2017.

In his role as the Bristol ChemLabS School Teacher Fellow, Tim Harrison, another of the winners, promotes chemistry in a wide variety of ways. He has combined his excellent teaching ability with his raw enthusiasm for chemistry and science in general to inspire, undergraduates, postgraduates, trainee and established teachers, technicians and academics from across the UK and beyond to take part in outreach activities that promote and support science.

Tim conducts engaging and inspiring workshops with school students of all ages, through the organisation of conferences, laboratory workshops, competitions and summer schools.  He also works with postgraduate chemists in all aspects of science communication, including writing articles for school students and teachers, and working with teachers and trainee teachers, so that we have even more scientists going out and sharing their passion for the subject.

The awards recognise and reward those in roles that support UK science, technology, engineering and maths for their excellent work and acheivements. Recipients include laboratory technicians, teachers, teaching assistants and many more.

Professor Carol Robinson FRS, who chaired the Hauksbee Awards Committee which selected the recipients, spent 7 years as a technician herself. She said of the winners:

 “The calibre of applications that we received for these awards is testament to the many individuals across the UK doing working tirelessly behind the scenes in science. Without their dedication and enthusiasm our science classrooms and laboratories could not function properly. The skills they bring are invaluable. Science owes as much to them as it does to groundbreakers such as Isaac Netwon, Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking.  The Hauksbee Awards are a way for us to take note of the excellent work being done by these individuals and thank them for their important contribution to the sciences.”

The awards are named after Francis Hauksbee who was Isaac Newton's laboratory assistant at the Royal Society.  During his time as President, Newton appointed Hauksbee as curator and instrument maker, and Hauksbee later became a Fellow in his own right in 1705.