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Professor Stedman recipient
of 2001 Research Medal
Professor Bob Kirk - 01/03/02
Reprinted from the University of Canterbury's Chronicle

Professor Stedman with the Chancellor of the University of Canterbury, Dame Phyllis Guthardt

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Bob Kirk gave the oration for Professor Geoff Stedman (Physics and Astronomy), the recipient of the University of Canterbury Research Medal for 2001:

"Professor Stedman is one of New Zealand's leading physicists. His work is known throughout the world of international scholarship in physics and he has made very substantial contributions to knowledge in that subject over many years.

"There are two principal facets to Professor Stedman's work. For much of the earlier part of his career he made significant contributions to theoretical physics. Then this more theoretical work led him to become a very accomplished experimental scientist. It is in this second area of his work that Professor Stedman is best known to his colleagues at the University of Canterbury, especially to those of us who are not physicists. I refer in particular to his novel and ground-breaking research working with a series of ring lasers built and housed underground in a World War 2 excavation inside Banks Peninsula - in what is popularly known as the Cashmere 'cavern' near Princess Margaret Hospital. Since tours of the cavern are arranged from time to time, I am sure there will be a number of people here today who have enjoyed the opportunity to see something of that work first-hand.

"Building the ring lasers has been a significant achievement in its own right, but Professor Stedman undertook this not so much as an end in itself but to test important ideas in special relativity and quantum mechanics. These experiments are highly novel and have excited considerable international interest among his fellow physicists.

"The University's Research Committee has frequent and strong indications from visiting scientists that the development of the ring lasers at Cashmere is truly leading-edge science. It has required first-rate science to achieve, but it is also equally significant that the experiments undertaken in the cavern would not have been possible without the additional factors of Professor Stedman's exceptional drive and leadership.

"I know that formidable practical problems have been overcome by Professor Stedman and a team of his academic colleagues, the departmental technical and support staff and his students. Often ingenious solutions have been reached in order to create devices that some firmly argued could not be successfully built at all.

"I also know that the succession of ring lasers built at Cashmere have become steadily larger and ever more sophisticated in the precision and accuracy to which they make measurements. As simple illustrations of this, and as someone who works with the oceans, it astounded me to learn that the lasers in Cashmere can sense such phenomena as the tides in the oceans and the breakers beating on the beach at Brighton several kilometres away. They can also detect tiny perturbations - wobbles if you will - in the rotation of the Earth on its axis. Marvellous though I find these feats of measurement, Professor Stedman probably regards these miraculous results as unwanted 'noise' that get in the way of the things he really wants to know about.

"Professor Stedman's work on the ring lasers has involved substantial international collaborations, especially parallel work which he has completed with colleagues at Wetzell in Germany.

"Another measure of his influence in the world of physics is that Professor Stedman is the author of some 140 scientific papers in leading international journals. Also, his international scientific standing has been recognised through several awards and fellowships, most notably Fellowship of the Institute of Physics in the United Kingdom and Fellowship of the Royal Society of New Zealand. He is also a Hector Medallist of the Royal Society of New Zealand. His curriculum vitae includes reference to prizes in mathematics and chemistry, as well as in physics, a testament to the broad scope of his scientific interests and his high attainment in science in the widest sense.

"In 1999, Professor Stedman was the keynote speaker at the Centennial Meeting of the American Physical Society. With three other speakers from Yale, MIT and the University of California at Berkeley, he led a special session on ring lasers and related developments.

"Looking back further in his career, Geoffrey Stedman is a graduate of the University of Canterbury, completing a BSc(Hons) with first-class honours in physics in 1964. He then travelled to the United Kingdom to undertake doctoral studies, carrying out research for his PhD under the supervision of Dr D J Newman at Queen Mary College, London. Following a postdoctoral period working as a research assistant at Queen Mary College, he returned to Canterbury in 1971 and has been actively engaged in teaching and research in the University for the past 30 years.

"Dr Newman had this to say of Professor Stedman's days as a research student in London. 'Itís a long time since Geoff worked on his PhD with me. I say 'with' because he always did a great deal more than I suggested and in addition to following up his own interests. I remember asking him once what projects he was working on. There were about 10, so I suggested perhaps he was attempting a bit too much. The reply was that he was only following my example, but I had about six research students at the time.'

"Throughout his years in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Professor Stedman has, in his turn, supervised a steady stream of research students who have gone on to a wide range of careers, some in academia and research, but also in other professions. For a number of years, Professor Stedman chaired the departmental research committee and he has also served with distinction as the chair of the New Zealand Institute of Physics, taking an important role as the public spokesman for his subject.

"Madam, I have the honour to present Geoffrey Ernest Stedman to receive the University Research Medal."

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