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Christiaan Huygens Medal 2021 R. Giles Harrison

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European Geosciences Union

R. Giles Harrison

R. Giles Harrison
R. Giles Harrison

The 2021 Christiaan Huygens Medal is awarded to R. Giles Harrison for his outstanding achievements in the development of instruments and new techniques for the study of atmospheric electricity.

R. Giles Harrison conducts cutting-edge interdisciplinary research in geosciences instrumentation at the intersection of several disciplines, including atmospheric physics, Earth-Sun interactions, and aerosol science. Harrison developed many new measurement techniques, including novel, ground-based and balloon-borne instruments for the measurement of turbulence, the electric fields of clouds and cloud edges, air conductivity, current density, ionization, solar energetic particles, and cosmic rays. Harrison placed special emphasis on the design of lightweight and low-cost meteorological payloads for balloons and UAVs, within tight constraints with respect to power, weight, and telemetry, having pioneered in Europe the use of balloons and UAVs in atmospheric electricity studies.

In addition to designing and flying new instruments, Harrison has extensive hands-on field experience (in Dubai, Africa, and many other places), having measured the charge in liquid water clouds and Saharan dust clouds, the electric field and air conductivity in the boundary layer and clouds, and the ash plume from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. His work on the measurement of the effects of turbulence using balloons carrying magnetic field sensors led to the confirmation of turbulence in Titan’s atmosphere as observed by the probe named after Christiaan Huygens.

Harrison contributed to more than a dozen review articles relating the new understanding achieved by the careful use of novel instrumentation, including new insights on the connections between cosmic rays, clouds and climate, the interdependencies of ions, aerosols and cloud processes, the association between climate and the global atmospheric electric circuit, and the electrification of dust and volcanic plumes. Harrison’s measurement techniques have been widely disseminated, with 34 papers in the well-established American Institute of Physics’ journal Review of Scientific Instruments alone. His highly useful graduate-level textbook on “Meteorological Measurements and Instrumentation”, describing the physical principles and technological ingenuity of various measurements, provides an essential account of the history of atmospheric measurements in the context of modern climate science and of the future of observational meteorology in terms of emerging sensors and technologies.

Harrison is keen on public engagement, contributing to citizen science data-collection campaigns and sharing with the public his vast historical knowledge, authoring several popular articles on key actors in the development of scientific measurements, and shedding light on the scientific process itself through behind-the- scenes historical accounts. In addition to his highly impactful research, Harrison’s influence on geoscience instrumentation extends through his encouraging support to the careers of others, having supervised more than 50 graduate students and 10 successful PhD candidates, and through the organization of scientific meetings and workshops, fostering discussions and interdisciplinary research in atmospheric electricity.

For his very substantive contributions in the development of meteorological instrumentation, which significantly improved understanding in diverse domains of the geosciences from the Earth’s atmosphere to space-Earth interactions and even planetary science, R. Giles Harrison is an exceptionally worthy recipient of the 2021 Christiaan Huygens Medal.