Prestigious recognition for Lancaster geographers

Professor Peter Atkinson and Professor David Higgitt
Professor Peter Atkinson and Professor David Higgitt

The achievements of two Lancaster University researchers have been recognised by a prestigious learned society.

Peter Atkinson, Distinguished Professor of Spatial Data Science and Executive Dean of Lancaster University’s Faculty of Science and Technology, is to receive the Cuthbert Peek Award from the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).

Named after Sir Cuthbert Edgar Peek (1855 – 1901) a Victorian researcher who travelled in Iceland, Australia and New Zealand and studied hot springs, the Cuthbert Peek Award, first awarded in the 1880s, is given to those who ‘advance geographical knowledge of human impact on the environment through the application of contemporary methods, including those of earth observation and mapping.’

Professor Atkinson has received the Cuthbert Peek Award for ‘scientific advances transforming the understanding of geographical data.’

Professor Atkinson is recognised for his work on geostatistics, machine learning and remote sensing to answer a range of big geographical questions. Recently, he has led the way in developing deep learning and explainable AI for remote sensing, including a novel ‘joint deep learning’ model that represents a paradigm shift in land cover-land use classification.

He has applied these ideas in a wide range of geographical, grand challenge applications including health, poverty, climate change and natural hazards such as floods.

Professor Atkinson has also published more than 400 peer-reviewed international scientific journal articles, and authored or edited nine books.

He said: “I am delighted am humbled to have been nominated for an award from the RGS-IBG. Since starting studying Geography for my undergraduate degree, I have enjoyed every minute working within this fascinating and important inter-disciplinary subject."

The Royal Geographical Society has also announced that Professor David Higgitt, Academic Dean at Lancaster University College at Beijing Jiaotong University, is to receive an Honorary Fellowship ‘in recognition of outstanding support for geography’.

A leading authority on transnational education, Professor Higgitt is recognised for this sustained work to disseminate good practice in teaching and learning and his research on sediment-related hazards in river systems. He was also a founding member of the Singapore branch of the Royal Geographical Society.

“Geography has enabled me to undertake research in many fascinating and challenging landscapes, particularly in China and Southeast Asia,” he said. “I am humbled that my contributions have been recognised, particularly for roles facilitating international research cooperation and encouraging innovation and sharing of best practice in the teaching and learning of geography in Higher Education.”

Professor Malcolm Joyce, Interim Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at Lancaster University, said: “I am delighted to hear that Professor Peter Atkinson and Professor David Higgitt’s significant contributions to the field of Geography are being recognised by the prestigious learned society. Professor Higgitt has done outstanding work in China and Southeast Asia which is well recognised with his Fellowship, and Professor Atkinson’s research has made significant advances in the use and understanding of spatial data across a range of applications with societal importance. Many congratulations to them both.”

Nigel Clifford, President of the Royal Geographical Society (With IBG), said: “For over a hundred years, the Society’s medals and awards have celebrated the extraordinary contributions of individuals and organisations to the field of geography.

“Our 2024 honours shine a light on those whose deep commitment to expanding geographical knowledge and understanding—whether through research, expeditions, education, policymaking, professional practice, or public engagement—has made a significant and positive difference to our world. These efforts not only shape our present, but also pave the way for future generations. I extend warmest congratulations to the esteemed recipients of this year’s medals and awards.”

Formed in 1830 for the advancement of geographical science, the Royal Geographical Society (with the IBG) is the learned society and professional body for geography. The awards will be presented at a ceremony at the Society in London on Monday, June 3.

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