Scotland punching above its weight in science, says Astronomer Royal
SCOTLAND is a “small nation punching above its weight” when it comes to funding scientific ventures, the country’s Astronomer Royal has said.
Professor John Brown, who was presented with one of world’s most prestigious scientific awards yesterday, praised the Scottish Government’s support for scientific research allowed groundbreaking work to be carried out in across Scotland.
He compared the Scottish administration’s approach with that of Westminster, which he claimed sidelined pure science in favour or producing “consumerist widgets” in the Far East.
Prof Brown, who received the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, an award previously accepted by Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, said: “I think if we had a Scottish Government which was free to create its own science research agencies this would be a positive move for Scotland. Bigger funding could create scope for further space research.
“We have a government here which has more science awareness and is far more receptive to science than Westminster which tends to regard it as an appendage to the economy. But I’m well aware we need to have a strong enough economy to support pure science.
“Clyde Space in Glasgow, which builds satellites, is already showing what we can do. However, the vast majority of research money in terms of sizeable grants are dished out from London and we have don’t have a significant pot in Scotland.”
Professor Brown, who was appointed Scotland’s tenth Astronomer Royal in 1995, added: “I think that if in some ways a country feels disadvantaged and oppressed it fights back with vigour; there’s a sort of defiance here pushing our scientists on. Scotland has come near the top in a recent league table of astronomy and science research which is a great achievement compared to somewhere like the US which has more dollars per person.”
Professor Brown, 64, regius chair of astronomy at Glasgow University, who uses his skills as an amateur magician to engage young people with science, said he was “gobsmacked” at being honoured: “It came completely out of the blue. My name is now on a list with Einstein, but I don’t have any pretensions about that. Just like athletics, science has a spectrum of performers and abilities.”
Professor Roger Davies, president of the Royal Astronomical Society, which has been awarding medals annually for nearly 200 years, said: “The extraordinarily talented men and women who receive prizes, such as Professor Brown, are among the ranks of the leading astronomers, space scientists and geophysicists who continue to shape the way we think about both our own planet and the wider universe.”
The citation quotes Prof Brown’s work ranging from his landmark pioneering research as a 24-year-old student at the University of Glasgow identifying the mechanism of the production of X-rays by electrons in solar flares; his leading role working on Nasa’s award-winning RHESSI mission and his outreach work which has “inspired the astronomical passions of thousands of people across the UK and overseas”.
Professor Ian Robson, director of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at the Royal Observatory, Blackford Hill, Edinburgh, said: “This is a fitting reward for an illustrious scientific career, not only because of his prowess in his fields of study but also though his dedication to outreach.”
Alasdair Allan, MSP, minister for science, said: “Scotland’s has a rich history of innovation in science and research. Prof Brown receiving such a prestigious award reflects not just upon his leadership in the field of astronomy, but Scotland’s seat at the top table of global scientific research. I would like to offer him my congratulations.”
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