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New Year Honours for University of Leicester Chancellor and Professor both leading the way in space science

Emma Bunce is a Professor of Planetary Plasma Physics and Director of the Institute for Space

A space scientist, whose influence has reached throughout the solar system, and the University’s Chancellor, who encourages students to ‘reach for the stars’, are among this year’s recipients of New Year’s Honours.

Professor Emma Bunce has been recognised in the King’s New Year Honours 2024 list (announced Saturday 30 December) with an OBE for services to Astronomy and Science Education, while Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, the University’s Chancellor, has also been recognised with a Damehood for services to Science Education and to Diversity.

President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Nishan Canagarajah said: “Recognition with a Royal honour is the pinnacle of national achievement. It recognises, quite literally, the out-of-this-world achievements of both these inspirational leaders.

“Along with her colleagues at Leicester, Emma has made a phenomenal contribution to advancing space research as well as raising aspirations, equity and inclusion. Equally, Maggie has been honoured for her immense contributions to science, education and diversity. Not only does this acknowledge the high esteem in which they are held by their colleagues and peers, but also reflects the positive impact that our Citizens of Change have upon the world. This is well deserved and I am delighted for them both.”

Currently Director of the Institute for Space at the University of Leicester and formerly Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy, Professor Bunce is playing a key role in ESA’s JUICE mission to Jupiter, which launched earlier this year, and has been involved in multiple international space projects. As well as being a co-investigator on the JUICE J-MAG and UVS instruments, and co-lead of the ESA JUICE/NASA Europa Clipper Steering Committee, she is principal investigator (PI) for the Mercury Imaging X-ray Spectrometer (MIXS) instrument on the ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission to Mercury.

Professor Bunce’s research focus is planetary magnetospheric physics, including those of the giant planets, particularly Jupiter and Saturn, and more recently the miniature magnetosphere of Mercury. She is an inspirational leader who has mentored many students and early career scientists, and given many outreach talks to school children and the public communicating the excitement of science and hoping to inspire young people into pursuing studies and careers in scientific fields.

She has also supported the science community and the public understanding of science through charities, including as a trustee of the National Space Centre and as chair and president of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Professor Bunce said: “I am absolutely delighted and honoured to receive this recognition. Everything that we do in space science is a team effort, and I am hugely grateful to have worked alongside many wonderful colleagues, students, and collaborators in the School of Physics and Astronomy and beyond.”

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, the University’s Chancellor

Dr Aderin-Pocock is best known for her work on The Sky at Night, which she has presented since 2014. Born in London to Nigerian parents, she attended 13 different schools before she turned 18 and had undiagnosed dyslexia. However, her perseverance and love of science ensured she obtained a physics degree and PhD in mechanical engineering at Imperial College London, in 1994.

Since then, she has worked for; the UK Ministry of Defence helping to develop aircraft missile warning systems and hand-held instruments to detect landmines; University College London developing a high-resolution spectrograph for the Gemini Observatory, in Chile; with the team behind the Aeolus satellite, which measures wind speeds in the Earth’s atmosphere; and instrumentation for the James Webb Space Telescope.

She was installed as Chancellor at the University of Leicester in 2023. As Chancellor, Dr Aderin-Pocock is the ceremonial head and acts as an advocate for the University both nationally and internationally, as well as chairing the annual meeting of University Court.