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Bristol academics among Institute of Physics 2023 award winners

Left, Professor Belinda Wilkes, and right, Dr Nikolas Breuckmann

Press release issued: 16 October 2023

Two University of Bristol academics have been named among the winners at the prestigious Institute of Physics 2023 Awards for their pioneering scientific work.

Professor Belinda Wilkes has been awarded the Richard Glazebrook Medal and Prize for Leadership in Physics for her leadership of NASA Chandra X-Ray Centre, meanwhile Dr Nikolas Breuckmann was awarded a James Clerk Maxwell Bronze Medal for his work in helping to prove a famous open problem in quantum information theory.

The IoP awards celebrate physicists at every stage of their career; from those just starting out through to physicists at the peak of their careers, and those with a distinguished career behind them.

Professor Wilkes award is in recognition of her outstanding leadership over six years of the Chandra X-ray Center, during which the Chandra satellite provided the finest X-ray observing capabilities to international astronomers. Professor Wilkes was responsible for ensuring NASA gained optimal return from the mission, and managed a diverse staff of around 170 scientists and engineers.

During this time Professor Wilkes was the professional and public face of the Center, interfacing with NASA, giving talks and media interviews, and attending public events. She maintains her significant research on active galaxies, and has remained committed throughout her career to training the next generation of independent scientists. This work continues this work in her current position as a Royal Society Wolfson Visiting Professor at the University of Bristol.

Professor Wilkes said: "It is a distinct honour to be awarded the Institute of Physics Richard Glazebrook Medal and Prize for Leadership in Physics. Leading NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory was an incredible privilege and, for me, the best job in the world. I am thrilled and deeply grateful to be recognised for this work by such a highly distinguished organisation as the IoP, which is respected around the world for its promotion and support of Physics, and for its ground-breaking advocation of diversity."

Dr Nikolas Breuckmann’s award was in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the quantum error correction field. Working together with Anurag Anshu and Chinmay Nirkhe, Dr Breuckmann proved the ‘no low-energy trivial state conjecture’, a famous open problem in quantum information theory first formulated by Fields Medallist Michael Freedman and Matt Hastings in 2013.

Quanta Magazine described this achievement as ‘one of the biggest developments in theoretical computer science this year.

Appointed Lecturer in Quantum Computing Theory at the University of Bristol in November 2022, Dr Breuckmann has worked on quantum information theory, which lies at the intersection of mathematics, physics and computer science.

Dr Breuckmann said: “I am deeply honoured to receive this award and I feel fortunate to work in a field as rich and diverse as quantum information, which I have the privilege of exploring with my exceptional collaborators.”

Congratulating this year’s Award winners, Institute of Physics President, Professor Sir Keith Burnett, said: “On behalf of the Institute of Physics, I want to congratulate all of this year’s award winners. Each one has made a significant and positive impact in their profession, whether as a researcher, teacher, industrialist, technician or apprentice and I hope they are incredibly proud of their achievements.

“There is so much focus today on the opportunities generated by a career in physics and the potential our science has to transform our society and economy and I hope the stories of our winners will help to inspire future generations of scientists.”

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