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The Queen honours John Pendry

John Pendry[link] was honoured in the recent Queen's birthday honours list with a knighthood for his services to science, so it is now Sir John Pendry who has turned 60. Sir John is well known to the synchrotron community through his theoretical formulism of EXAFS and XANES [Lee & Pendry (1975), Phys. Rev. B, 11, 2795–2811] which, together with the work of Ashley & Doniach [Phys. Rev B, (1975), 11, 12791288–], has formed the basis of most of the rigorous analysis packages (EXCURVE, GNXS, FEFF etc.) used by thousands of EXAFS and XANES practitioners around the synchrotron world. At the time of the first international meeting on EXAFS, held at Daresbury on 28–29 March 1981, he was the head of the theory group at Daresbury laboratory and gave a talk entitled `The theoretical basis of EXAFS and edge structure' [see EXAFS for Inorganic Systems (1981), Daresbury Report DL/SCI/R17, pp. 5–12, edited by C. D. Garner and S. S. Hasnain]. He had formulated his theoretical formulism based on his previous work on the theoretical basis of a surface technique, LEED. His book, entitled Low-Energy Electron Diffraction (Academic Press, 1974), has remained an essential reading for surface scientists over the last three decades.

[Figure 1]
Figure 1
John Pendry.

Sir John began his career at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, followed by six years at the Daresbury Laboratory, where he headed the theoretical group from 1975 to 1981. He moved to the Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College, London, in late 1981. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Fellow of the Institute of Physics in 1984. During his time at Imperial College he held all of the senior scientific appointments possible at the college: Dean of the Royal College of Science from 1993 to 1996; Head of the Department of Physics from 1998 to 2001 and the first Principal of the Faculty of Physical Sciences from 2001 to 2002.

In 2000, Sir John published a series of papers building on forgotten work by Russian physicist Victor Veselago from 1968, which laid the theoretical ground for the development of special left-handed or `metamaterials' that could be used to form perfect lenses [see, for example, Pendry (2003), Nature (London), 423, 22–23]. Currently, Sir John is working on new optical materials developed jointly with colleagues at the Marconi company, which may lead to DVD discs with much higher information density, and to higher-resolution optical lithography for computer chips. Speaking in March this year he was open-minded about the eventual applications for metamaterials, `I believe that the really valuable applications have yet to be dreamt of. Think back to when the first lasers were made, the reaction was that they were just incredible, but what the hell would we do with them?'. Sir John, a theorist, has proved consistently insightful when asked to describe the relevance of physics to the world. Challenged in 1997 to give the college a glimpse of where he saw research in his discipline heading, he described physics as a practical enabling discipline `showing how to do things thought impossible, helping others refine their approach.' `Physics is to the rest of science what machine tools are to engineering', he wrote in a recent essay.

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