Cathryn Mitchell, M0IBG, the academic director of the University of Bath Doctoral College in the UK, has received the 2019 Edward Appleton Medal and Prize for her pioneering research in tomography and data assimilation that revealed a completely new perspective on the ionosphere in response to extreme space weather.
“Mitchell innovated a completely new Earth observation technique by adapting medical tomography to image the Earth’s ionosphere, thus revealing the dynamics of the near-Earth space environment,” an announcement on the Institute of Physics (IOP) website explained. “Her use of Global Positioning System satellite signals as a source for space weather tomography, through a new time-dependent mathematical inversion algorithm, has given us the first global-scale view of the ionosphere in response to space weather storms.”
The award’s namesake, Edward Appleton, won the 1947 Nobel Prize in Physics for his 1924 work that proved the existence of the ionosphere. Radio amateurs participated in listening tests during the early 1920s that provided data regarding how radio signals propagate.
According to the award announcement, Mitchell’s research “fundamentally changed” the understanding of the ionosphere. Her deep-field experimental work to collect tomographic radio signals has taken her to both poles and altered the understanding of the relationship between plasma density irregularities and optical aurora, leading to the discovery of disruptive radio propagation effects on satellite signals used for navigation and timing. The research could help to improve the accuracy and reliability of satellite navigation systems.
Mitchell holds a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Knowledge Exchange Fellowship and recently acted in advisory roles for UK and US governmental bodies and for the European Space Agency. She is the author of more than 100 journal papers, and her tomography algorithms are licensed to other research organizations in the UK and around the world.
“She continues to pioneer new observation techniques, this year producing the first ever single-frequency Geostationary GPS ionospheric measurements,” the IOP announcement said. “Mitchell’s innovations in tomographic imaging have crossed traditional discipline boundaries and are now applied in other fields including medical imaging, nuclear imaging, and cosmic-ray muon tomography.”
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