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Peter Hawkes graduated from the University of Cambridge and subsequently obtained his PhD in the Electron Microscopy Section of the Cavendish Laboratory. He remained there for several years, working on electron optics and digital image processing before taking up a research position in the CNRS Laboratory of Electron Optics (now CEMES-CNRS) in Toulouse, of which he was Director in 1987. During the Cambridge years, he was a Research Fellow of Peterhouse and a Senior Research fellow of Churchill College. He has published extensively, both books and scientific journal articles, and is a member of the editorial boards of Ultramicroscopy and the Journal of Microscopy. He was the founder-president of the European Microscopy Society, CNRS Silver Medallist in 1983 and is a Fellow of the Optical Society of America and of the Microscopy Society of America (Distinguished Scientist, Physics, 2015), Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society and Honorary Member of the French Microscopy Society. In 1982, he was awarded the ScD degree by the University of Cambridge.
In 1982, he took over editorship of the Advances in Electronics & Electron Physics (now Advances in Imaging & Electron Physics) from Claire Marton (widow of the first editor, Bill Marton) and followed Marton's example in maintaining a wide range of subject matter. He added mathematical morphology to the topics regularly covered; Jean Serra and Gerhard Ritter are among those who have contributed.
In 1980, he joined Professor Wollnik (Giessen University) and Karl Brown (SLAC) in organising the first international conference on charged-particle optics, designed to bring together opticians from the worlds of electron optics, accelerator optics and spectrometer optics. This was so successful that similar meetings have been held at four-year intervals from 1986 to the present day. Peter Hawkes organised the 1990 meeting in Toulouse and has been a member of the organising committee of all the meetings. He has also participated in the organization of other microscopy-related congresses, notably EMAG in the UK and some of the International and European Congresses on electron microscopy as well as three Pfefferkorn conferences.
He is very interested in the history of optics and microscopy, and recently wrote long historical articles on the correction of electron lens aberrations, the first based on a lecture delivered at a meeting of the Royal Society. He likewise sponsored biographical articles for the Advances on such major figures as Ernst Ruska (Nobel Prize 1986), Helmut Ruska, Bodo von Borries, Jan Le Poole and Dennis Gabor (Nobel Prize, 1971). Two substantial volumes of the series were devoted to 'The Beginnings of Electron Microscopy' and 'The Growth of Electron Microscopy'. and others have covered 'Cold Field Emission Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopy' and 'Aberration-corrected Electron Microscopy', with contributions by all the main personalities of the subject.