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2019 William Thomson, Lord Kelvin Medal and Prize

Dr Philip Ball for being an informed and lucid writer and broadcaster who opens doors into science, and especially physics, for many people who otherwise find them closed.


Head and shoulders photograph of Dr Philip Ball against a plain background. He's looking into the camera and wearing a black, round-neck top.

Philip Ball has been an exceptional communicator of science, especially physics, in journalism, popular articles, books and radio for three decades. Consistently reaching beyond mere ‘translation’ for the general public. He also provides a critical evaluation of science within its social context, so that audiences might integrate it within broader culture. Success in this vital task was recognised as Science Commentator of the Year in the Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards in both 2015 and 2017.

Broadcasting

Ball presents for BBC Radio 4 history of science series, Science Stories, with topics including Maxwell's demon, Einstein's fridge, Robert Grosseteste's medieval cosmology, and Lise Meitner's work on nuclear fission. He regularly contributes to other BBC radio science programmes, and presented a five-part Radio 4 series, 'The Unseen: A History of the Invisible', in 2016.

Journalism and writing

He writes widely on physics subjects for newspapers, magazines and the popular scientific press, and is a regular contributor to Physics World and a columnist for Nature Materials and Chemistry World. He writes a regular blog for Prospect magazine.

Talks

Ball has presented to diverse audiences, ranging from school pupils to literary festivals. His 2018 quantum mechanics talk at the Royal Institution has become the most rapidly watched in their online collection (currently over 750,000 views).

Relevant Books

  • 'The Self-Made Tapestry' (1998) explored the science of pattern formation.
  • 'H2O: A Biography of Water' (1999) examined water's physics and natural history.
  • 'Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another' (2004 - Aventis Prize 2005) showed how ideas from condensed-matter physics apply to complex behaviour in human society.
  • 'Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen' (2014) captured "a history of the unseen from Plato to particle physics".
  • 'Serving the Reich: The Struggle for the Soul of Physics Under Hitler' (2013) (Royal Society Science Book Prize 2014 shortlist) explored the ethical dilemmas faced by German physics under Nazism.
  • 'Beyond Weird' (2018) describes the latest efforts to understand what quantum mechanics tells us about the nature of the physical world. Highly praised, it won the Physics World Book Prize 2018.

Read about our Gold Medals.