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Professor Mike Charlton

A Swansea University physicist has been awarded a prestigious honour by the Institute of Physics for his leadership over thirty years in the field of antimatter science.

Professor Mike Charlton (pictured), an experimental atomic physicist, has received the Sir Joseph Thomson Medal, which is bestowed for “distinguished contributions to atomic or molecular physics.” 

Joseph Thomson (1856-1940) was a British scientist who discovered the electron, pioneered mass spectroscopy and found the first evidence for the existence of isotopes of a stable element.

The medal was awarded to Professor Charlton by the Institute of Physics (IOP), the professional body and learned society for physics in the UK and Ireland.

In its citation, the IOP said that Professor Charlton’s award was:

“For scientific leadership in antimatter science, particularly within the ATHENA and ALPHA collaborations, and the formation and study of antihydrogen, including precision two-photon spectroscopy of the 1S – 2S transition.”

Antimatter is the opposite of normal matter. The sub-atomic particles of antimatter have properties opposite to those of normal matter – for instance their electrical charge is reversed. Antimatter was created in equal amounts along with matter after the Big Bang, but is rare in today's universe, and scientists are investigating why.

Professor Charlton, who has been part of Swansea University’s top-rated Physics Department since 1999, has pioneered the field of antihydrogen physics.

He was instrumental in setting up the ALPHA collaboration, an international project based at CERN in Switzerland, home to the Large Hadron Collider. The goal of ALPHA is to create, trap and manipulate antihydrogen.

Professor Charlton and the ALPHA team have also conducted several experiments on antihydrogen, including spectroscopic measurements involving ground and excited states, thereby ushering in the era of precision physics with atomic antimatter.

Professor Charlton said:

“I am thrilled to receive this accolade from the IOP, and to acknowledge the wonderful team effort from Swansea that has gone into the work. I think that Thomson himself would have been interested in our project!”

There are two further Swansea physics connections in this year’s IOP awards. Professor John Collier, a Swansea graduate and, since 2009, an Honorary Professor in the Department, will be awarded a Gold medal for his efforts and leadership in laser physics. One of the Department’s industrial partners, Dr Drew Nelson, will be awarded a Gold medal for his industrial efforts around semiconductors.

These are the latest accolades for Swansea University’s Physics Department. In the last Research Excellence Framework (REF), over 80% of their research outputs were judged to be world-leading or internationally excellent.

In the 2020 Guardian University Guide they were ranked top Physics Department in the UK for student satisfaction and second for teaching.

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