Protecting UK infrastructure from the unpredictability of space: Professor Paul Cannon leads the way in radio science development

Paul-CannonPaul Cannon OBE, Professor of Radio Science in the School of Electronic Electrical and Systems Engineering, has been appointed President of the International Union of Radio Science (URSI) and also a member of the Defence Scientific Advisory Council.

As a member of the Defence Scientific Advisory Council from 1 October 2014 he will provide advice to the UK Ministry of Defence. Combining extensive industry experience, including the role of Chief Scientist and Technical Director (Communications Systems) at QinetiQ, the multinational defence technology company, with specialist academic knowledge in radio propagation and radio environment problems, Professor Cannon is well positioned to inform policy.

At URSI’s General Assembly in Beijing in August, Professor Cannon was also elected President. URSI is one of the 31 scientific Unions affiliated to the International Council for Science (ICSU) to which the Royal Society is the national member. URSI seeks to internationally stimulate and co-ordinate, pure and applied radio science research through scientific exchange and communication.


Professor Cannon said:

Radio science is at the heart of modern society. For example it is core to the way cellular phones work, to remote sensing from space and is critical to making new scientific discoveries. URSI aims to further radio science and bring scientists together from around the world to advance knowledge and share ideas.

Professor Cannon has been affiliated with URSI for a number of years, having led the Commission for Ionospheric Radio and Propagation research and having been a Vice President. During his three year term as President, Professor Cannon aims to move the organisation forward, increasing its visibility and engaging the next generation of scientists. 

Professor Cannon added:

Young engineers and scientists are critical to the technological development of our world. My priority as President of URSI is to build engagement with young researchers and practitioners in both developed and developing countries. We need to bring together our best young people who will in due course be the lead scientists and engineers of tomorrow.

Professor Cannon who received his OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s honours list led the Royal Academy of Engineering working group on ‘Extreme Space Weather’ which made recommendations to UK government on the potential impacts of solar storms on engineered systems and infrastructure. In response to concerns that storms in space could destroy global infrastructure, the report analysed the impact of extreme solar activity on the satellite fleets, the electricity network and other technologies. 

Professor Cannon explains: “Similar to weather on earth, space weather is changeable with small storms occurring reasonably regularly and big storms less often. Solar superstorms occur very infrequently - about every 100-200 years – but these will have a significant impact on our technology and infrastructure. Amongst other effects we predict loss of part of the electricity network and 10% of our satellite fleet could be lost or severely damaged. While we can’t predict the timing of these storms, it is important that we understand the possible impact and make appropriate preparation. This is what the Royal Academy report outlines.”


Professor Paul Cannon will deliver a public lecture on solar superstorms as part of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences Distinguished Lecture Series on Thursday 6 November. More details are available here.