University of Hertfordshire

Professor James Hough


Following the award of a PhD in particle physics in 1967 Hough carried out cosmic ray research for five years as a Research Associate in Canada and then as a UK Research Council-funded Fellow at Durham University, UK.  Following his appointment in 1972 as a Physics lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire (formerly the Hatfield Polytechnic) his research has concentrated almost exclusively on astronomy.  He led the astronomy research from circa 1980, formerly being appointed as Director of Astronomy Research in 2003 with the creation of the Centre for Astrophysics Research, within the Science & Technology Research Institute.  In 2010 Hough retired from full-time employment and became a Research Professor with a 0.20FTE contract. 

Hough's research has focussed on the design, construction and extensive use of optical and infrared polarimeters.  The HATPOL polarimeters were used extensively on the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (Mauna Kea, Hawaii) and the Anglo-Australian Telescope (NSW, Australia) and produced ~35 refereed papers from ~ 28 observing trips.   The most recent polarimeter, PlanetPol, is the most sensitive polarimeter ever used on a telescope, with a sensitivity better than one part per million.  It was built to try and detect the reflected light from close-in extrasolar planets but only achieved upper limits as the albedos turned out to be much lower than expected.  Serendipitously, PlanetPol observations showed, for the first time, that mineral aerosols can be aligned in the Earth’s atmosphere, important for atmospheric models (hence climate modelling), and for the accurate retrieval of data from sun photometers and from satellite observations, and possibly for explaining the long-range transport of dust.

Hough has also provided support for the development of polarimeters for several overseas groups: (i) as Project Scientist for the Gemini Telescope polarimeters; (ii) as a member of the instrumentation team, with particular responsibility for polarimetry, for the construction of CanariCam, a mid-infrared imager/spectrometer with polarimetry, being constructed at the University of Florida for the Spanish GranTeCan telescope; (iii) provided the polarimetry design and optics for TRISPEC, an optical and near-infrared imager/spectrometer, built at the University of Nagoya, Japan; (iv) provided the scientific rationale and polarimetry optics for the first ever polarization survey, using SIRPOL, an imager providing simultaneous J, H, Ks polarimetry (both linear and circular) and used extensively on the 1.4 m Japanese IRSF survey telescope.

His scientific interests included the interstellar medium, alignment of dust grains, exoplanets, astrobiology, young stellar objects, reflection nebulae, polars, the Galactic Centre, and active galaxies.  He has published ~200 refereed papers, including 13 Nature papers, with ~ 5163 citations (average of 26 citations per paper), and an h-index of 40.  As PI, he was awarded grants totalling £7.8m from the Research Councils, Royal Society, Leverhulme, and the British Council.

Hough was awarded the Daiwa-Adrian prize for UK-Japan scientific collaborations in 1998, and the Royal Astronomical Society's Herschel Medal 2010.

Hough played a major role in the peer review process and the strategic development of astronomy within the UK, being a Member or Chair of over 50 Research Council Committees and Boards.  Chaired the Astronomy & Astrophysics Grants & Policy Committee and, together with two other leading members of the astronomy community, initiated the scientific case for the UK to become part of the international Gemini Telescope Project.  Chaired a major review of UK astronomy culminating in two reports: Hough I and Hough II, which set the scientific strategy and the infrastructure needs for the future UK astronomy programme (1993-1995).  He was appointed to the Particle Physics and Astronomy Council (PPARC) in 1997, and was chair of the PPARC Education and Training Panel.  He was elected as a member of the Council of the Royal Astronomical Society in 2006.  He had his first entry in WHO’s WHO in 1999.

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