A University of Reading scientist has been awarded the Christiaan Huygens Medal by the European Geosciences Union (EGU) for his work advancing understanding of electric charge in Earth’s atmosphere.

Professor Giles Harrison’s pioneering use of lightweight instruments fitted to balloons and drones to take atmospheric measurements also confirmed turbulence in the atmosphere of Titan, the moon of Saturn which was discovered by Huygens in 1655.

Professor Harrison’s recent research has had a global impact, with an ongoing project investigating how charge could increase rainfall in the Middle East. This project also involves fellow Meteorology researcher Dr Keri Nicoll, who was last year awarded the Atmospheric and Space Electricity Early Career Award by the American Geophysical Union.

Professor Andrew Charlton-Perez, Head of the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading, said: “Congratulations to Professor Harrison on being awarded this prestigious prize for his sustained achievements in measuring and understanding electricity in the atmosphere, and how that affects our lives.

“This award is the latest to recognise Reading researchers who are carrying out ground-breaking work in their fields, and carrying that through to making a difference to the world.”

The Christiaan Huygens Medal, named after the influential 17th century Dutch scientist, is awarded annually to recognise a discovery or series of contributions over an extended period, that has led to significant progress.

Professor Harrison was officially presented with the Medal on 27 April, during a virtual ceremony in which he also delivered the Huygens Lecture.

In the lecture, he gave more insight into many new uses of weather balloons to monitor natural hazards. Professor Harrison has worked on measuring charge in Saharan dust clouds, high energy particles during space weather events, and the ash plume from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, which grounded flights in 2010. More recently, he has used drones to investigate electrical effects on rainfall.

The EGU also praised Professor Harrison for his public engagement work, supporting the careers of others, including student supervision at all levels.

In his acceptance speech, Professor Harrison thanked the EGU and the Geosciences Instrumentation and Data Systems Division for awarding him the Huygens Medal. He said: “It is humbling to be associated with Huygens and I’m grateful to my collaborators and, over the years, all those people who’ve worked with me.”

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