Skip to main content

Professor John Dudley: oration

Read Professor Jonathan Knight's oration on Professor John Dudley for the honorary degree of Doctor of Science in December 2015.


Chancellor, it is my pleasure to introduce Professor John Dudley, a physicist with a global reputation for the quality of his research and for his leadership of the field.

John Dudley studied at the University of Auckland, gaining his PhD in 1992. He did postdoctoral research at St. Andrews before returning to Auckland as a Lecturer. In 2000, he was appointed Professor at the University of Franche-Comté in Besançon, where he heads the Optoelectronics and Photonics research group. His research is into nonlinear optics and the strange behaviour of waves, but his interests are far wider and include much of physics, the benefits of education, and public engagement. He is an avid Twitter user and a widely-sought speaker on topics as diverse as the benefits of supporting pure research, freak events in nature, nonlinear fibre optics and how to forge a career in academia.

Physicists often come as one of two flavours: experimentalists and theoreticians. In the field of optics, experimentalists work with lasers, lenses, fibres and electronics. They are practical and need the skills of an engineer, spending much of their time tinkering with equipment. Theoreticians need none of that – they work with equations: sometimes paper and pencil, at other times a computer. Their time is spent reading, talking, working on a computer, or thinking. Theoreticians are often best able to make links between different areas of research through identifying the similarity in the underlying mathematics. Unusually, John Dudley excels as both theoretician and experimentalist. Much of his work has been around identifying particular solutions to the nonlinear wave equations, and to observe these experimentally in the optics laboratory. He has identified these same effects in a number of different disciplines, including in the behaviour of “rogue” ocean waves. His ability to communicate with a range of different scientists has been key to his remarkable achievements of the last few years.

On 20 December 2013, the UN General Assembly 68th Session proclaimed 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015). The proclamation recognised how light-based technologies promote sustainable development and provide solutions to global challenges in energy, education, agriculture and health. Light has revolutionised medicine, opened up international communication via the Internet, and continues to be central to linking cultural, economic and political aspects of the global society. The International Year of Light campaign (IYL 2015) has resulted in activities across 120 countries, indicating the extraordinary impact it has had. John Dudley was the Chair of the IYL Steering Committee, and drove the process from its inception, through the UN resolution and up until the present day. IYL 2015 started on 19 and 20 January at an event at the UNESCO HQ in Paris, where John Dudley spoke alongside five Nobel Prize winners, and has run through the year. The global launch was followed shortly afterwards by UK celebrations at St James’s Palace, hosted by His Royal Highness the Duke of York, who is a Patron of the Year of Light in the United Kingdom. Here at the University of Bath, students and staff have engaged with the public in a range of ways, both at open days on campus, and also in the City.

John Dudley’s research has been recognised by a series of appointments and awards, including being awarded the CNRS Silver Medal in 2013 and being President of the European Physical Society up until 2015. This year he was awarded the Robert E Hopkins Leadership Award by The Optical Society for his leadership, including, and I quote from their publicity, “…almost single-handedly creating the 2015 UNESCO International Year of Light”.

Chancellor, I present to you John Dudley who is eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.

Professor Jonathan Knight

On this page