Silver Subject Medals

Nominations for the 2020 Awards open on 19 November 2019.

Our silver medals are awarded annually to recognise and reward distinguished contributions to physics.


From 2018, we have removed the broader categories and will accept nominations for all seventeen medals. The exact type and number of medals being awarded may vary each year depending on the nominations received. This practice has changed to allow recognition of the highest quality research and the application of physics.

Image of Lord Rayleigh Medal

John William Strutt, Lord Rayleigh Medal and Prize

For distinguished contributions to theoretical (including mathematical and computational) physics

About John William Strutt, Lord Rayleigh

Lord Rayleigh was an English physicist who made fundamental discoveries in acoustics and optics – in particular, what is now known as Rayleigh scattering – the elastic scattering of light by particles smaller than its wavelength, which is the reason the sky appears blue – and Rayleigh waves, which are acoustics waves travelling along the surface of a solid.

This medal comes with a prize of £1,000 and a certificate.

Find out about the work of previous winners

Image of Sam Edwards Medal

Sam Edwards Medal and Prize

For distinguished contributions in soft matter physics

About Sam Edwards

Born in Wales, Edwards’ work in condensed matter physics started in 1958 with a paper showing that statistical properties of disordered systems (glasses, gels etc.) could be described by the Feynman diagram and path-integral methods invented in quantum field theory. During the following 35 years, Edwards worked in the theoretical study of complex materials, such as polymers, gels, colloids and similar systems.

This medal comes with a prize of £1,000 and a certificate.

Find out more about the work of previous winners

Image of Rosalind Franklin Medal

Rosalind Franklin Medal and Prize

For distinguished contributions to physics applied to the life sciences including biological physics

About Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin was an English X-ray crystallographer whose work was critical to the understanding of the molecular structure of graphite, coal, viruses and DNA – the latter being recognised with Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins’s award of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962, four years after Franklin’s death.

This medal comes with a prize of £1,000 and a certificate.

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Image of Nevill Mott Medal

Nevill Mott Medal and Prize

For distinguished contributions to condensed matter or materials physics

About Nevill Mott

Sir Nevill Mott was a British physicist who shared the Philip W Anderson and JH Van Vleck for work on the electronic properties of disordered systems, particularly amorphous semiconductors. He served as president of the Physical Society over 1956–58.

This medal comes with a prize of £1,000 and a certificate.

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Image of David Tabor Medal

David Tabor Medal and Prize

For distinguished contributions to surface or nanoscale physics

About David Tabor

David Tabor was an experimental physicist who was responsible for founding the field of tribology – the study of friction between surfaces. As well as establishing the discipline he pioneered an interdisciplinary approach, working to involve chemists, metallurgists and engineers.

This medal comes with a prize of £1,000 and a certificate.

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Image of Cecelia Payne-Gaposchkin Medal

Cecelia Payne-Gaposchkin Medal and Prize

For distinguished contributions to plasma, solar or space physics.

About Cecelia Payne-Gaposchkin

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was a British-American astrophysicist who, in the course of her PhD studies on stellar spectra, discovered that stars are composed overwhelmingly of hydrogen and helium, in contrast to the prevailing view that the chemical makeup of the stars was much the same as that on Earth.

She thereby established that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. After her doctorate, Payne-Gaposchkin carried out observations of more than three million variable stars, with her data being used to determine stellar evolution.

This medal comes with a prize of £1,000 and a certificate.

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Image of Edward Appleton Medal

Edward Appleton Medal and Prize

For distinguished contributions to environmental, Earth or atmospheric physics.

About Edward Appleton

Sir Edward Appleton was an English physicist and radio pioneer who was awarded the 1924 Nobel Prize in Physics for work that proved the existence of the Earth’s ionosphere. His observation that the strength of a radio signal was constant during the day but varied at night had led him to believe that two signals were being received – one along the ground and another reflected off the atmosphere, and he confirmed this in experiments involving measuring variation in radio waves at sunset.

This medal comes with a prize of £1,000 and a certificate.

Find out more about the work of previous winners

Image of Thomas Young Medal

Thomas Young Medal and Prize

For distinguished contributions to optics, including work related to physics outside the visible region

About Thomas Young

Thomas Young was an English polymath noted for having established the wave theory of light via his famous double-slit experiment, and for what is now known as Young’s modulus, which relates the stress in a body to its associated strain.

He also made contributions to the theory of colour vision, first coming up with the hypothesis that our perception of colour depends on three kinds of receptors sensitive to different wavelengths of light, and to the understanding of surface tension.

This medal comes with a prize of £1,000 and a certificate.

Find out more about the work of previous winners

Image of Joseph Thomson Medal

Joseph Thomson Medal and Prize

For distinguished contributions to atomic or molecular physics

About Joseph Thomson

Sir Joseph Thomson was best known for his discovery of the electron: his studies of what were then known as cathode rays showed that those rays must be made up of negatively charged particles much smaller than an atom and with a large charge: mass ratio. Thomson also pioneered mass spectroscopy and found the first evidence for the existence of isotopes of a stable element. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1906 for his investigations of the conduction of electricity by gases.

This medal comes with a prize of £1,000 and a certificate.

Find out more about the work of previous winners

Image of Ernest Rutherford Medal

Ernest Rutherford Medal and Prize

For distinguished contributions to nuclear physics

About Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson was a New-Zealand-born British physicist who is generally considered to be the father of nuclear physics. He came up with the concept of radioactive half-life, showed that radioactivity involves chemical elements transmuting into other elements, and was the first to distinguish between alpha and beta radiation.

This medal comes with a prize of £1,000 and a certificate.

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Image of James Chadwick medal

James Chadwick Medal and Prize

For distinguished contributions to particle physics

About James Chadwick

Sir James Chadwick was an English physicist who was awarded the 1935 Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the neutron. Chadwick studied under Ernest Rutherford at the University of Manchester and then under Hans Geiger in Berlin.

He authored the final draft of the report that persuaded the US government to begin serious efforts to develop an atomic weapon, and subsequently worked on the Manhattan Project. He was knighted in 1945.

This medal comes with a prize of £1,000 and a certificate.

Find out more about the work of previous winners

Image of Fred Hoyle Medal

Fred Hoyle Medal and Prize

For distinguished contributions to astrophysics, gravitational physics or cosmology

About Fred Hoyle

Fred Hoyle was an English astrophysicist who developed the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis, which describes how elements heavier than helium are produced by nuclear reactions within stars. Hoyle directed Cambridge University’s Institute for Astronomy for six years.

This medal comes with a prize of £1,000 and a certificate.

Find out more about the work of previous winners

Image of James Joule Medal

James Joule Medal and Prize

For distinguished contributions to applied physics, involving the application of the methods and principles of fundamental physics to solve technological problems

About James Joule

James Joule was an English physicist and mathematician who uncovered the relationships between heat and mechanical work and, later, electricity. Joule’s work disproved the then-popular caloric theory of heat, and led to the principle of conservation of energy and to modern thermodynamics. The unit of energy, the joule, is named after him.

This medal comes with a prize of £1,000 and a certificate.

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Image of Dennis Gabor Medal

Dennis Gabor Medal and Prize

For distinguished contributions to the application of physics in an industrial, commercial or business context

About Dennis Gabor

Dennis Gabor was a Hungarian–British physicist and the inventor of holography, for which he was awarded the 1971 Nobel Prize in Physics. In 1933 Gabor fled Nazi Germany, where he had been researching electron optics at the Technical University of Berlin, and came to the UK, where he began work at the engineering firm British Thomson-Houston.

This medal comes with a prize of £1,000 and a certificate.

Find out more about the work of previous winners

Image of Marie Curie-Sklodowska Medal

Marie Curie-Sklodowska Medal and Prize

For distinguished contributions to physics education

About Marie Curie-Sklodowska

Marie Curie-Sklodowska’s achievements included the development of the theory of radioactivity. Curie-Sklodowska discovered two new chemical elements – radium and polonium. She carried out the first research into the treatment of tumours with radiation, and she was the founder of the Curie Institutes, which are important medical research centres. She is the only person to have won Nobel Prizes in both physics and chemistry.

This medal comes with a prize of £1,000 and a certificate.

Image of Lise Meitner Medal

Lise Meitner Medal and Prize

For distinguished contributions to public engagement within physics

About Lise Meitner

Lise Meitner was an Austrian physicist who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics. She was the first woman to become a full professor of physics in Germany. In 1944, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to her long-time collaborator Otto Hahn for work on nuclear fission.

In the 1990s, the records of the committee that decided on that prize were opened. Several scientists and journalists have called her exclusion “unjust”, and Meitner has received a flurry of posthumous honours, including the naming of chemical element 109 as meitnerium in 1997.

This medal comes with a prize of £1,000 and a certificate.

Find out more about the work of previous winners

Peter Mansfield Medal and Prize

For distinguished contributions to medical physics

About Peter Mansfield

Sir Peter Mansfield was a British physicist who made ground breaking discoveries while Professor at the University of Nottingham. His research led to the development of the MRI medical scanner used in hospitals and medical centres all over the world.

The medal comes with a prize of £1,000 and a certificate.

Find out about our other awards