The Priestley Medal

Description and history

Charles Henry Brian (Bill) Priestley was a researcher of the highest order, as well as being a dominant influence on the organisation of meteorological research in Australia, and a motivating force for research by others, during his lifetime and and his influence continues to be important. He has the rare distinction of having a constant named after him (the Priestley Constant in free convection) and a law or ratio (the Priestley-Taylor ratio for evaporation in well-watered landscapes). His research, and his contributions to the organisation and management of atmospheric research in Australia, was recognised by a lengthy list of awards including the Symons Memorial Gold Medal of the Royal Meteorological Society (1967), the IMO Prize of the World Meteorological Organization (1973), the Rossby Research medal of the American Meteorological Society (1974), and the Flinders Medal of the Australian Academy of Science (1976). He was also an elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (1955) and the Royal Society of London (1966), and was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1976. In the 1960s, he played a key role in the development of the new international meteorological research programs, serving first as a member of the WMO Advisory Committee and then as an inaugural member of the Joint Organizing Committee for the Global Atmospheric Research Programme (GARP). He chaired many important national committees including the Australian Academy of Science committee which prepared the Academy’s 1976 landmark report on climate change.

After graduating from Cambridge with a double first, Bill joined the Meteorological Office in 1939, participating in micrometeorological research and experiments on the spread of gases, before collaborating in the development of techniques to use thickness patterns to produce upper-air charts, and participating in the weather forecast for D-Day. In 1946 he was recruited to lead the CSIRO Section of Meteorological Physics. At CSIRO he conducted research on large-scale atmospheric dynamics (especially focussing on fluxes of heat, water vapour and angular momentum), and, with WC Swinbank, on small-scale heat transfer and convection (especially on vertical transfer of heat, momentum and mass). He also worked on the water cycle, focussing on evaporation over land. In 2013, 15 years after his death, Bill’s peer-reviewed publications were still cited more than 200 times.

In 1955 Bill became the first Chief of the renamed CSIRO Division of Meteorological Physics. In 1973 this was again renamed, to the Division of Atmospheric Physics, to reflect a broadening of its research to cover a wider range of atmospheric physical processes, including the monitoring and understanding of changes in atmospheric constituents. He was, with WJ Gibbs, the Director of Meteorology, instrumental in establishing a joint research centre, the Commonwealth Meteorology Research Centre (CMRC) to enhance Australian research into numerical weather prediction and climate modelling. After retiring as Chief of the Division of Meteorological Physics, Bill served as Chairman of CSIRO’s Environmental Physics Research Laboratories (EPRL) from 1973 to 1977 and then took up the position of part-time Professor of Mathematics at Monash University for a number of years. He withdrew from active involvement in the Australian meteorological community in the late 1980s.

Bill’s influence on facilitating and encouraging high-quality Australian research over a very long period can perhaps be demonstrated best by recalling the names of just some of the scientists recruited to CSIRO in his time, including Graeme Pearman, John Garratt, Sandy Troup, Arch Dyer, Garth Paltridge, Martin Platt, Reg Clarke, Barrie Pittock, Andrzej Berson, Bill Swinbank, Len Deacon, Angus McEwan, Eric Webb, Ian McIlroy and Kevin Spillane. Many of these, recruited as young scientists, went on to become familiar names, not just to other researchers, but also to politicians, the media and the public, attesting to the encouragement and organisational abilities that Bill displayed throughout his career. He passed away in 1998.

The Priestley Medal commemorates the life-long contributions of Dr C H B Priestley to meteorological and oceanographic research, and is aimed at scientists in their mid-careers no older than 45 years for personal excellence in meteorological, oceanographic or climate research carried out substantially within Australia.  It is offered every second (odd) year.

Past Recipients:

1983 N.E. Davidson and B.J. McAvaney  
1985 R.H. Clarke  
1987 Neville Nicholls  
1989 Roger L. Hughes  
1991 Ross Griffiths ANU
1993 Roger Smith Monash University
1995 Gregory Ayers CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research
1997 Peter Baines CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research
1999 Stephen Rintoul CSIRO Marine Research
2001 Peter Rayner CSIRO Atmospheric Research
2003 Andy Pitman Macquarie University
2005 Matthew England The University of New South Wales
2007 Amanda Lynch Monash University
2009 Susan Wijffels CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research
2011 Lisa Alexander The University of New South Wales
2013 Matthew Wheeler Bureau of Meteorology
2015 Andy Hogg  Australian National University

Nominations and eligibility

  1. Any scientist may make a nomination. The nomination must address the selection criteria below, include a CV, and no more than three letters of reference that also address the selection criteria. Nominators should be aware of the AMOS Code of Conduct, which promotes diversity of membership and discipline when making nominations. The Awards Committee has limited ability to seek additional information and therefore nomination documents must be complete and provide a full and fair account of each candidate. A publication list in which the more significant contributions are identified with brief notes written on no more than five of the most important ones should be attached. Where there are multiple authors to these five the role of the candidate should be explained.
  2. The nominee would normally be no older than 45 years, but career changes and interruptions (e.g., parental responsibilities, serious illness etc.) will be taken into account when considering eligibility.
  3. See the main Awards page for other eligibility requirements.

Selection criteria

  1. Evidence of achievements in research which have made a strong contribution to the understanding of the science and the published literature. [essential]
  2. Evidence of achievements in research carried out substantially within Australia. [essential]
  3. Evidence that the candidate has conducted transformative research and/or contributed strongly to the initiation of new fields. [essential]
  4. Evidence of service to the promotion of the AMOS mission. This could include a period of service on AMOS Council as a Member or Office Bearer, and/or service on and promotion of AMOS through Centre Committees and Centre activities, and/or contribution to AMOS activities including organisation of the National Conferences, and/or editorial support for the Society’s journal, preparation of AMOS position papers etc for public or political dissemination or outreach etc. [highly desirable]

Note that equal weight is given to each of the selection criteria and the Award will be given every second year.

Sub-Committee - Priestley Medal

Merry Lynch (Chair)
Tom Beer
Matthias Tomczak 
Milton Speer

Awards Committee Contact

Neville Nicholls
Chair, AMOS Awards Committee