HRH Princess Royal Presents RSE Royal Medals and the RSE/IEEE James Clerk Maxwell Award

Some of the UK’s most outstanding academic talent has been recognised by Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal KG KT HonFRSE who presented the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s (RSE) Royal Medals and the IEEE/RSE James Clerk Maxwell award at the RSE, Edinburgh on the 9th December 2016.

This year’s RSE Royal Medals were awarded to Professor Sir Angus Deaton FBA HonFRSE for his for services to research in economics and international affairs and Professor James Hough OBE FRS FRSE for his involvement in the pioneering research and discovery of gravitational waves. Professor Sir Angus Deaton was in Stockholm in connection with the Nobel Prize Awards at the time of the Princess Royal’s visit and so received his RSE Royal Medal at the RSE in October.

RSE Royal Medals were instituted by Her Majesty The Queen to mark the Millennium and have been awarded since then with her express approval. These accolades are awarded for distinction and international repute in any of the following categories: Life Sciences; Physical and Engineering Sciences; Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; Business and Commerce. Previous recipients have included Nobel Laureates Sir James Black and Sir James Mirrlees, as well as the distinguished Scottish historian Prof Tom Devine, and theoretical physicist Professor Peter Higgs.

The 2016 IEEE/RSE James Clerk Maxwell Medal was presented to Professor Geoffrey Hinton, University of Toronto Canada for his sustained contributions to machine learning, including developments in deep neural networks. The Award was accepted on his behalf by Professor Barry Shoop, President IEEE.

The James Clerk Maxwell award is a joint award with the IEEE that was created in 2006 and recognises ground-breaking work by those who follow in Maxwell’s footsteps. James Clerk Maxwell was one of our outstanding former Fellows and his statue now stands a short distance from the RSE premises, on George Street.

RSE President, Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell said, “We deeply appreciate the interest Princess Anne has shown in the RSE and her personal involvement in the presentation of these prestigious awards. This year’s Royal Medallists have both have made truly exceptional contributions to their areas. So too this year’s James Clerk Maxwell medallist has excelled in his field. These awards are the RSE’s highest accolades that reflect the enlightenment spirit of the RSE’s Royal charter of 1783 and its remit to advance learning and useful knowledge.”


See the Royal Medals Programme  for more information.

Notes on the Awardees:

For over 45 years, Professor Jim Hough has been at the forefront of the effort to confirm the existence of gravitational waves, predicted by Einstein one hundred years ago.

The challenge was epic – it involved detecting and measuring a movement less than one million millionth the width of a human hair. Over the years, Jim has pioneered novel technologies in laser interferometry – techniques which are also finding practical application in engineering and medical equipment.

Jim led the Institute for Gravitational Research, in the University of Glasgow, until 2009. He played a major role in the development of the high-technology UK/German detector GEO 600, and the much larger advanced LIGO. He was also the principal UK proposer of LISA (a space-based gravitational wave detector); LISA pathfinder was launched a year ago and, recently, the team he leads won the Arthur C Clarke award for this work.

In February 2016, it was announced that the LIGO/Virgo Scientific Collaboration (which includes the Glasgow group) had made the first direct detection of gravitational waves. These came from the merger of two massive black holes about 1.3 billion light years away.

Today, we stand poised at the start of gravitational wave astronomy, opening up a new way to observe the Universe and with developments in progress for even more sensitive detectors, both on the ground and in space. Jim continues to influence international planning for the future, while leading new research and continuing to train many generations of younger scientists.

Jim Hough has been recognised by an impressive number of professional Fellowships and honours, including an OBE for Services to Science in 2013. He is indeed one of the world’s most distinguished physicists and one of the true pioneers of gravitational wave physics and astronomy, and is a worthy recipient of an RSE Royal Medal.

Professor Sir Angus Deaton, born and brought up in Edinburgh, was the sole winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.

The design of economic policy to promote welfare and reduce poverty requires an understanding of individual consumption choices. More than anyone else, Angus Deaton has enhanced this understanding. By linking detailed individual choices and aggregate outcomes, his research has helped transform the fields of microeconomics, macroeconomics and development economics. In each of these three fields, he has provided answers to key questions.

Most recently, Angus Deaton has highlighted how reliable measures of individual household consumption levels can be used to uncover the mechanisms behind economic development. His research has uncovered important pitfalls when comparing the extent of poverty across time and place. His focus on household surveys has helped transform development economics from a theoretical field based on aggregate data to an empirical field based on detailed individual data.

It is because of his answers to these fundamental questions that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences to Angus Deaton “for his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare.”

Among his many other international and national honours, he is a corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, a Fellow of the American Philosophical Society, and of the Econometric Society. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2015. He holds honorary doctorates from universities including Edinburgh, St Andrews, Rome, University College London and Brown University.

It is for his outstanding career in economics that Sir Angus Deaton is being awarded a Royal Society of Edinburgh Royal Medal.

Sir Angus was presented with his Royal Medal at the RSE on Monday 10 October 2016 by RSE President, Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell. On that occasion, he was also welcomed as an Honorary Fellow of the RSE. Following the presentation, he delivered the David Hume Institute Lecture.

Professor Geoffrey Hinton is a Fellow of the Royal Society and recipient of the IEEE Neural Network Pioneer Award (1998); Hinton is a Distinguished Emeritus Professor with the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and a Distinguished Researcher at Google Inc. in Mountain View, CA, USA.

He was presented with the IEEE/RSE James Clerk Maxwell Award for 2016 at the IEEE Honors Ceremony on Saturday 18 June 2016 at Gotham Hall, New York, USA.

Driven by the desire to understand the mechanisms of cognition in the human brain and how to apply them to machines that learn, Geoffrey Hinton is considered the leading authority on machine learning. Hinton’s development of the backpropagation algorithm was key to the resurgence of the machine learning field during the 1980s. He realised and demonstrated that, in addition to performing nonlinear regression and classification, back propagation allows neural networks to develop their own internal representations. The backpropagation algorithm has been used successfully in applications including speech and visual object recognition, fraud detection, plant monitoring and automated check verification.

His early work on the Boltzmann machine during the 1980s introduced many of the concepts that have remained at the forefront of neural network learning. Boltzmann machines were initially considered too slow for widespread application. However, as computing power improved, Hinton was able to develop a specific Boltzmann machine that provides much faster training properties than the earlier general machines. The ability to pre-train each of the layers of neural networks having up to 20 layers of parameters ushered in the era of deep-learning neural networks.

Hinton demonstrated that deep networks, which partition the neural network into many layers, can be trained using mostly unsupervised learning, level by level, with each level learning to represent slightly more abstract concepts than the previous level, by composing those concepts represented by the previous levels. Hinton’s work on deep learning has completely revolutionised the field of machine learning, especially impacting machine vision applications including image classification, medical diagnostics, law enforcement, computer gaming and enhanced vehicle safety.

It is for his pioneering and sustained contributions to machine learning, including developments in deep neural networks, that Professor Hinton is awarded the IEEE/RSE James Clerk Maxwell award for 2016.