Chemist awarded national prize for his contribution to the field of space science

ArmesA chemistry professor has been awarded a prestigious national prize for his outstanding contribution to the field of space science.

Professor Steven Armes, from the Department of Chemistry, was awarded the 2014 Royal Society of Chemistry Interdisciplinary Prize, which recognises work at the interface between chemistry and other disciplines.

Professor Armes, who only last week was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, joined the University of Sheffield in 2004 to take up a Chair in Polymer and Colloid Chemistry. He is currently the Director of the Sheffield Polymer Centre and Farapack Polymers and is also the Director of a new Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Polymers, Soft Matter and Colloids.

This latest prize recognises his contribution to designing various types of synthetic dust particles to help the study of particles in space.

“Space scientists have been using metal dust particles in their experiments since the 1960s,” said Professor Armes.

“But they are also interested in studying the behaviour of non-metallic dusts too. So my team prepared various plastic dusts using a special type of polymer called polypyrrole. This organic material is electrically conductive and allows the dust particles to accumulate surface charge.

“This enables the synthetic dust to be electrostatically accelerated up to 72,000 mph using a high voltage van de Graaf instrument. These new plastic dusts have proven to be useful mimics for understanding the behaviour of organic micrometeorites, which are of particular interest because they are believed to contain the essential building blocks of life.

He added: “Over the past decade or so, our collaborations with space scientists based in the UK, Germany and the USA have aided the interpretation of dust data obtained from the Cassini and Stardust space missions.

“This international effort has been recognised by the award of the Royal Society of Chemistry prize to myself, but it has really been a sustained team effort.”

Professor Armes has published more than 470 papers (including co-authorships with more than 100 scientists around the world) and is a named inventor on 20 patent applications.


Find out more about the Royal Society of Chemistry Interdisciplinary Prize

Find out more about Professor Armes’ work – visit his staff page