Thursday, October 27, 2011

Top Irish Laser Scientist Wins Boyle Medal

Margaret Murnane, Distinguished Professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, United States, has been awarded the prestigious RDS Irish Times Boyle Medal for Scientific Excellence for her pioneering work which has transformed the field of ultrafast laser and x-ray science.

Inaugurated in 1899, the Boyle Medal continues to recognise scientific research of exceptional merit and since its inception has been awarded to 38 distinguished scientists, including George Johnstone Stoney (1899), John Joly (1911), Garret A. FitzGerald (2005) and Luke O’Neill (2009). In 1999 the awarding of the Boyle Medal became a joint venture between the Royal Dublin Society and The Irish Times. It is now awarded biennially - alternating between a scientist based in Ireland and an Irish scientist based abroad. This year’s award celebrates the work of an Irish researcher working outside of Ireland and carries with it a cash prize of €20,000.

Professor Murnane’s distinguished work has focused on the development of lasers which can operate at the fundamental limits of speed and stability. She designed the first laser able to pulse in the low trillionths of a second range (10 femtoseconds) which allows time almost to be halted to capture a freeze-frame view of the world. She has also developed a tabletop x-ray laser using very short laser pulses to generate coherent beams of x-rays. The output x-ray beam has all the directed properties of a laser - rather than the incoherent, light bulb-like, properties of the x-ray tubes used in science, medicine and security.

Upon hearing the news that she had won, Professor Murnane said “I am deeply grateful to be honoured with this award. I am certain that I would not be where I am today without the love for learning instilled through the strong education I received in Ireland through my primary, secondary and University years. It is undoubtedly this foundation which has given me the confidence to go out and put my stamp on the world. It makes it even more significant for me to learn that I am only the second female Boyle Medal Laureate in the Medal’s history.” Professor Murnane was born in Limerick and is a graduate of University College Cork, where she achieved B.Sc and M.Sc degrees in physics.

Speaking following their deliberations, the 2011 RDS Irish Times Boyle Medal International Judging Panel said that “Margaret Murnane is an international leader in her field and has made a significant contribution to laser and x-ray science. Not only is her fundamental research groundbreaking in itself, the application of her work has the potential to make a significant impact across virtually all scientific and medical disciplines.”

The Panel also noted that Professor Murnane has shared her technology with hundreds of scientists worldwide. A laser built directly from her design was the critical element in the ‘frequency comb’ work for which the 2005 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded.

The International Judging Panel selected Professor Murnane from a shortlist of five outstanding world-class Irish scientists. The members of the 2011 International Judging Panel included Professor Fulvio Esposito (Chair, Italy); Professor Alexander Borst (Germany); Professor Sir John Enderby (UK); Professor Mary Fowler (UK); Dr Peter Goodfellow (UK); Professor Sir John Pendry (UK) and Professor Dervilla Donnelly (Ireland, Chair of the National Judging Panel).

Professor Murnane will be conferred with her Medal and give a public lecture at the RDS on November 29, 2011. The lecture will be free of charge and open to the general public.

The RDS, founded in 1731, continues to fulfill its commitment to advancing agriculture, arts, industry and science. The awarding of the Boyle Medal for Scientific Excellence is an integral part of the RDS Foundation’s Science programme which aims to support excellence in scientific endeavour and communication, to emphasise the importance of science and technology in economic and social development and to encourage people to see science as provoking, challenging and fun.

For further details about the Boyle Medal and to reserve tickets for Professor Murnane’s public lecture please contact Karen Sheeran on; 01 240 7289 or  visit


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