Prestigious award for St Andrews’ Professor

Wednesday 13 May 2009

An image of Professor Eric Priest being presented with the gold medal by the President of the Royal Astronomical Society.

A scientist at the University of St Andrews has been recognised as a world leader in his field by the Royal Astronomical Society.

Professor Eric Priest has been awarded The Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, the organisation’s highest honour that is awarded for lifetime achievement in geophysics, solar physics or astronomy to scientists worldwide.

Eric Priest, an academic at the School of Mathematics & Statistics, holds the James Gregory and Bishop Wardlaw chairs in the Mathematical Institute at St Andrews University.

He set up and led for many years the solar theory research group which aims to develop in-depth understanding via mathematical and computational models of dynamic processes observed on the Sun with space satellites.

Professor Priest commented, “This award was a huge surprise to me and I regard it very much as a recognition of the achievements of the whole team of solar researchers in St Andrews, of which I have been privileged to be a small part, especially Bernard Roberts, Alan Hood, Clare Parnell, Thomas Neukirch, Duncan Mackay and Ineke DeMoortel.”

The Gold Medal for Geophysics was awarded to Professor Priest in a ceremony in London at the Joint European and National Astronomy Meeting.

The citation read, “Eric Priest is a giant in the fields of solar and solar-terrestrial physics. He has been a leading figure in the international solar physics community for the past 40 years and is widely recognised as the world’s leading expert on the magneto-hydrodynamic (MHD) theory of the Sun.

“He is best known for his work on magnetic reconnection: the process by which energy is released as a magnetic field changes its connectivity. He has made seminal contributions towards understanding the basic physics of this process and its application to the Sun and, due to largely to his insights, we now recognise the critical importance of three-dimensional effects in reconnection.

“This lifetime of outstanding scientific achievement and devotion to the advocacy of solar physics make Eric Priest an outstanding person to receive the Gold medal of the RAS.”

Professor Priest has been a Fellow of the Royal Society since 2002. He is honoured in recognition of both his distinguished research work and his key role in nurturing future generations of scientists.

Professor Priest was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1985, of the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters in 1994, of the Royal Society 2002 and of the European Academy of Sciences in 2005. He has delivered many named lectures, including the James Arthur Prize Lecture at Harvard and the Lindsay Memorial Lecture at the Goddard Space Flight Center. He was awarded the Hale prize of the American Astronomical Society, only the second time it has been awarded to a British scientist.  Priest created and led an extremely active and successful group at St Andrews, served three times on UK Research Assessment Panels and, as Co Chair of the PPARC Science Committee, he played and important role when the UK joined the European Southern Observatory.



Professor Eric Priest is available for interview – please contact the Press Office on 01334 462530.

For further information on the Royal Astronomical Society visit

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.



Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews
Contact Fiona Armstrong, Press Officer on 01334 462530 / 462529, Mobile: 07730 415 015 or Email: [email protected]
Ref:  Eric Priest 130509
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