International award goes to University of Leicester planetary scientist

Posted by pt91 at May 18, 2016 11:18 AM |
Star performer receives accolade from American Astronomical Society

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 18 May 2016

Photograph of Dr Leigh Fletcher available to download at: https://www.dropbox.com/s/zqtkb7dwtqb7vyu/Leigh%20Fletcher.jpg?dl=0

The American Astronomical Society has honoured a planetary scientist at the University of Leicester with one of its prestigious prizes.

The Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) has awarded its Harold C. Urey Prize 2016 for outstanding achievement in planetary research by an early-career scientist to Dr Leigh Fletcher from the Department of Physics and Astronomy in recognition of his ground-breaking work in understanding physical and chemical processes in the atmospheres of the outer planets.

His research uses sophisticated interplanetary spacecraft and world-leading ground-based observatories to study the climate and environment on giant planets.  His work has resulted in insights into such phenomena as the distribution of temperatures, chemicals, and clouds in Jupiter's Great Red Spot; the chemical make-up of Saturn's atmosphere, which reveals clues about its origin; the planetary-scale changes to the banded appearance of Jupiter; the discovery of a major hot vortex in Saturn's stratosphere spawned by powerful storm activity; the implications of changes of Saturn's temperatures and gaseous constituents for seasonal variability in its dynamics; and the distribution of Neptune's stratospheric temperatures and minor constituents.

Dr Fletcher is currently a Royal Society University Research Fellow and Lecturer at the University of Leicester.  He arrived at the University in 2015, after a career moving from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California to research fellowships at the University of Oxford.  He received his PhD in planetary sciences from the University of Oxford in 2007, and is a co-investigator on the Cassini mission to Saturn and future NASA and ESA missions to Jupiter and its icy moons, Europa and Ganymede.

Dr Fletcher said: “I’m completely humbled and overwhelmed at receiving this award, made even more special as it comes from my peers within the planetary science community. I’m so very fortunate to be doing a job that I love, and grateful to all my friends and colleagues for supporting me along the way.

“There’s an illustrious list of previous awardees of the Urey prize from all over the world, so I now have a lot to live up to!

“We have so many exciting projects coming up that will explore the Outer Solar System in new and innovative ways - space probes to Jupiter, infrared space telescopes, giant observatories on Earth - that it’ll keep our team in Leicester at the forefront of planetary research for years to come, and I’m proud that I can be a part of it.”

Professor Paul O’Brien, Head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, said: “It's a wonderful surprise and a great tribute to Leigh. This prize highlights the excellent planetary research being carried out at the University.”

Professor Mark Lester, Head of the University’s Radio and Space Plasma Physics Group, said: “This is excellent news and demonstrates the standing in which Leigh is held in the planetary research community. It is thoroughly deserved.”

The 2016 DPS prizes will be presented at the joint 48th meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) and 11th European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) in Pasadena, California, 16-21 October 2016.

Ends

Notes to editors:

For more information contact Dr Leigh Fletcher at leigh.fletcher@le.ac.uk.

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