News and events archive 2004 - 2013


Star Prize for University Physicist

International accolade for research in planetary science

A University of Leicester physicist has carried off a prestigious international prize for her research in planetary science.

Dr Emma Bunce has been awarded the 2004 Prix Baron Nicolet by the Royal Academy of Sciences, Letters and Fine Arts of Belgium. The prize is awarded every other year to an EU scientist under the age of 40, working in the field of aeronomy or space physics.

Emma graduated as a Master of Physics from the University of Leicester in 1998, and started her postgraduate research the same year in the specific field of planetary magnetospheric physics. Under the supervision of Professor Stan Cowley in the Radio and Space Plasma Physics group, she was awarded a Ph. D., in August 2001.

In recognition of her PhD research, she was awarded the Royal Astronomical Society's prize for 'Best thesis in Geophysics' for 2002. One of the papers from her thesis was also acknowledged by the European Geophysical Society which awarded her the 'Young Scientists' Publication Award' for 2002.

Emma remained in the Leicester Radio and Space Physics Group as a post-doctoral research associate until October 2003, when she was awarded a Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council research fellowship, another prestigious award which allows her to follow an independent research programme.

Her research interests involve both Jupiter and Saturn, and theoretical ideas of how their aurora are generated. She is currently focusing on Saturn, due to the arrival of the joint NASA/ESA Cassini-Huygens mission at Saturn, and is involved, through Professor Cowley as Co-Investigator, on the magnetometer instrument.

She is also working on the most recent Hubble Space Telescope imaging of Saturn's aurora taken in January this year. This allows scientists for the first time to be able to compare measurements of the conditions in the solar wind upstream of Saturn (using Cassini magnetometer and other plasma instruments), and compare them to how the aurora appear simultaneously (using HST ultraviolet cameras). They can then compare this data with theoretical ideas.

Speaking of her latest award, the 2004 Prix Baron Nicolet, Emma commented: “To receive this prize is excellent for me personally, but also shows that planetary science research at the University of Leicester is being recognised on an international level.”

Note to editors: Further information is available from Dr Emma Bunce, Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council Post-doctoral Research Fellow, University of Leicester Department of Physics and Astronomy, tel 0116 252 3548, email

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