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Double win for Strathclyde in Institute of Physics Awards

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Two academics from the University of Strathclyde have been named as winners of medals and prizes awarded by the Institute of Physics (IoP).

Professor David Birch, of Strathclyde’s Department of Physics, has been awarded the Dennis Gabor Medal and Prize, while Paul Chambers, of the University’s School of Education, has received the Marie Curie-Sklodowska Medal and Prize.

The awards are made for, respectively, distinguished contributions to the application of physics in an industrial, commercial or business context, and distinguished contributions to physics education.

Professor Birch said: “I am very honoured to receive this Award for translating fluorescence lifetime research into successful products. I want to give a special thanks to the Photophysics Research Group and HORIBA-IBH for their contribution over many years.

“In a small basement, with my fellow founding directors Bob Imhof and Tony Hallam, we started manufacturing; no internet to help back then, only the luxury of a shared fax machine. It was very exciting! The fluorescence lifetime market is now mature but staying at number one requires ongoing innovation. Being application-driven with global users and collaborators, the company is ideally placed to continue to shape the market for many years to come.”

Mr Chambers said: “I was surprised and delighted when the Institute of Physics contacted me regarding the award. It’s a great honour and for a Scottish-based lecturer to receive this reflects extremely well on the work I’ve been able to do here whilst at the University.

“The Institute invests a lot of resources in physics teacher education and we at Strathclyde have been involved in many initiatives with them over the years.”

Professor David Birch

Professor Birch’s award citation credits him with pioneering the UK fluorescence lifetime industry. He has achieved this through research publications and Strathclyde spinout company IBH, which he co-founded in 1977 and which has since led to sales totalling hundreds of millions of pounds.

The company was one of the first Scottish university spinouts and the founders’ vision was to create a multidisciplinary market by developing bespoke instrumentation for measuring fluorescence lifetime in what was then a specialised and embryonic area. As company chair, Professor Birch led IBH’s 2003 merger with $1.8bn HORIBA. This led to market dominance driven by innovations such as the HORIBA-IBH FLIMera molecular movie camera, which won IoP’s Business Innovation Award in 2019.

In the 1970s, while taking his Physics PhD, Professor Birch developed a TCSPC (time-correlated single-photon counting) fluorescence lifetime spectrometer with novel features destined to become industry standards. His subsequent research publications on subjects including melanin structure, glucose sensing and nanoparticle metrology helped stimulate application to areas of societal benefit such as healthcare.

Paul Chambers

Mr Chambers, who teaches on Strathclyde’s PGDE Secondary and Primary courses and combined degree Joint Honours courses, has been recognised for his “long service to and shaping of physics and science education in Scotland through training teachers to engage in critical research led pedagogy and practical teaching.”

He has two decades of committed service to the development of physics and science education and teaching in Scotland and has trained physics teachers at Strathclyde since 1999.

Throughout this time, he has engaged with research, not least in relation to misconceptions in physics, to help his students – Scotland’s future teachers – to develop into critical research led teachers.

In its citation, the IoP said: “(Mr Chambers has) aimed to develop future teachers not only as teachers of their subject but as educators.

“Not satisfied to accept the current way of doing things, his personal scholarship has led him to develop methods of explaining energy and electricity to young people and has used these in his university teaching to develop the workforce.”

Mr Chambers trains primary teaching students to give them the confidence to deliver stronger lessons but also brings schools whose pupils come from deprived areas to the university.

He has written more than 20 textbooks across physics and general science and has been a consultant for Bitesize, the BBC’s online study support resource. His pupil textbooks range from Primary 7 to Secondary 6 and the undergraduate textbook for primary teachers was revised this year to incorporate Australian and New Zealand science curricular links. His model particle accelerators are currently in development for use in schools.

IOP President Jonathan Flint said: “Congratulations to all the winners of this year’s IOP Awards, which recognise and reward excellence in individuals and teams and their contribution to physics. We’re delighted to celebrate the winners’ extraordinary achievements.”

The Dennis Gabor Medal and Prize, established in 2008, is named after a Hungarian–British physicist who was the inventor of holography, for which he was awarded the 1971 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The Marie Curie-Sklodowska Medal and Prize was established in 2016 and is named after the physicist whose achievements included the development of the theory of radioactivity. She was also the founder of the Curie Institutes and is the only person to have been a Nobel laureate in both Physics and Chemistry.