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AAS Announces 2015 Award Recipients

16 Jan 2015

At its 225th semiannual meeting last week in Seattle, Washington, the American Astronomical Society (AAS), the major organization of professional astronomers in North America, named the recipients of its 2015 prizes for outstanding achievements in research, instrument development, and education.

The 2015 Henry Norris Russell Lectureship for lifetime preeminence in astronomical research is awarded to Giovanni G. Fazio (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics). Fazio's pioneering work on gamma-ray and infrared instrumentation has advanced our understanding in many areas of astronomy, ranging from near-Earth objects to high-redshift galaxies. Fazio is internationally recognized as a brilliant innovator and mentor. His leadership in the development of large balloon-borne telescopes for far-infrared astronomical observations paved the way to the success of the Spitzer Space Telescope, which has revolutionized the way we see and study the universe and for which Fazio serves as principal investigator on the Infrared Array Camera.

The Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics, established in 1979 and funded by the Heineman Foundation, is awarded jointly by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) and the AAS to recognize outstanding work in astrophysics. The 2015 prize goes to Marc Kamionkowski (Johns Hopkins University) and David N. Spergel (Princeton University) for their outstanding contributions to the investigation of the fluctuations of the cosmic microwave background, which have led to major breakthroughs in our understanding of the universe. Kamionkowski is a theoretical physicist who specializes in cosmology and particle physics. Spergel is a theoretical astrophysicist whose interests range from the search for planets around nearby stars to the shape of the universe.

The Annie Jump Cannon Award for outstanding research and promise for the future by a postdoctoral woman scientist goes to Smadar Naoz (University of California, Los Angeles) for her pathbreaking contributions in cosmology and planetary dynamics. Her originality and critical thinking enabled her to spot an error in the implementation of the Kozai-Lidov formalism for the dynamics of three-body systems, something overlooked for decades by dynamicists worldwide. In a landmark paper published in Nature, Naoz showed that the presence of a massive planet in an orbit that is distant, slightly elongated, and moderately inclined relative to its host star's equator can naturally explain observations of "hot Jupiters" in orbits that are much closer to the star, highly elongated, steeply inclined, and even retrograde (backwards) relative to the star's rotation.

This year's recipient of the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize for observational research by a young astronomer is Heather A. Knutson (California Institute of Technology) for her transformational work in the characterization of exoplanet atmospheres. Knutson's groundbreaking spectroscopic and photometric observations, particularly with the Spitzer Space Telescope, have revealed the longitudinal and depth-dependent temperature structure on "hot Jupiters" and lower-mass, close-in exoplanets. Knutson's leadership has opened the field of atmospheric dynamics, revealed the presence of molecules, and shown the existence of clouds on these unique exoplanets. Knutson has also pioneered the study of the relationship between a planet's atmospheric structure and its host star's magnetic activity. Knutson has established the current state of the art in exoplanet atmospheric studies and has developed the techniques required to utilize future instrumentation to dramatically drive the field forward.

The Helen B. Warner Prize for observational or theoretical research by a young astronomer is awarded to Ruth Murray-Clay (University of California, Santa Barbara) for her substantial contributions to numerous areas of astrophysics. She has distinguished herself by advancing models of planet formation, especially clarifying the role of gravitational instabilities, illuminating how orbital migration leads to short-period "hot Jupiters," and exploring photoevaporation of close-in exoplanets. Murray-Clay follows up testable predictions of her theoretical models by delving directly into the observational data. She has also made outstanding contributions to the theoretical interpretation of the ionized gas cloud known as G2 that is plunging toward the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

Claire E. Max (University of California, Santa Cruz) is receiving the Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation for co-inventing sodium-laser-guide-star adaptive optics and for shepherding adaptive optics, which takes the "twinkle" out of starlight, from its roots in classified space surveillance to its prominence today as an essential technology on large telescopes. Her leadership has transformed how we observe by making near-diffraction-limited imaging possible on large ground-based telescopes, thus opening new fields of discovery including resolving stars and gas near supermassive black holes and studying extrasolar planets.

The AAS Education Prize goes to David Morrison (SETI Institute & NASA Ames Research Center) for a lifetime of outstanding contributions to the understanding of astronomy by college students and the public and to the debunking of astronomical pseudoscience through his textbooks, popular books, slide sets, websites, articles, public talks, and work with the media. As the primary spokesperson for the scientific response to public fears of a doomsday on 21 December 2012, Morrison exemplified the dedication of scientists who devote themselves to sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm with the public while maintaining the highest standards of technical accuracy.

The Chambliss Amateur Achievement Award for exemplary research by an amateur astronomer goes to Michigan stargazer Mike Simonsen, whose multiyear Z CamPaign is dedicated to the long-term study of Z Camelopardalis stars. These are binary systems in which a white dwarf accretes material from a bloated companion, resulting in erratic explosions that, mysteriously, sometimes stop occurring for days, weeks, or months. Simonsen's research, published in the Journal of the American Association of Variable Star Observers, promises to have a long-lasting impact on the field of accretion-disk theory.

With generous support from the Kavli Foundation, the Society's vice-presidents name a special invited lecturer to kick off each AAS meeting with a presentation on recent research of great importance. At the 225th AAS meeting in Seattle, the Kavli Foundation Plenary Lectureship went to Daniel Baker (University of Colorado, Boulder), whose prize lecture was entitled "New Results About the Earth's Van Allen Radiation Belts." The first great scientific discovery of the Space Age was that Earth is enshrouded in belts of high-energy, magnetically trapped charged subatomic particles. Baker reviewed five decades of progress in understanding the origin and structure of these belts, especially recent advances made possible by NASA's twin Van Allen space probes.

Closing out the meeting with the final plenary lecture was the recipient of the Lancelot M. Berkeley − New York Community Trust Prize for highly meritorious work in advancing the science of astronomy. David Weinberg (Ohio State University) won the prize for his paper "The Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey of SDSS-III," written with numerous coauthors and published in the Astronomical Journal in 2013 ( In his prize lecture, "Cosmological Highlights from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey," Weinberg reviewed key results in cosmology and galaxy evolution from the Sloan survey's vast, detailed maps of the distant universe and our own Milky Way Galaxy, deep digital imaging over one-third of the sky, and spectroscopy of more than 2 million galaxies, 200,000 quasars, and a half million stars.

Most of the AAS's six subject-specific divisions also award prizes, and three of them — the Solar Physics Division (SPD)High Energy Astrophysics Division (HEAD), and Laboratory Astrophysics Division (LAD) — have just announced some of their 2015 awardees.

The 2015 SPD George Ellery Hale Prize for outstanding contributions to the field of solar astronomy is awarded to George A. Doschek (Naval Research Laboratory) for his pioneering work in solar spectroscopy, in particular his important insights into the interpretation and analysis of solar spectral observations, and his leadership as US principal investigator of the Yohkoh Bragg Crystal Spectrometer and Hinode Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer. The 2015 SPD Karen Harvey Prize for a significant contribution to the study of the Sun early in a person's professional career is awarded to Jonathan W. Cirtain (NASA Marshall Space Flight Center) for his major contributions to the development of the next generation of solar instrumentation and his studies of the role of magnetic reconnection in the heating of the solar corona.

The winner of the 2015 HEAD Bruno Rossi Prize for a significant contribution to high-energy astrophysics, with particular emphasis on recent, original work, is Fiona Harrison (Caltech), principal investigator of NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) mission. Harrison is cited for her groundbreaking work on supernova remnants, neutron stars, and black holes enabled by NuSTAR, the first satellite to focus X-rays at energies above 10 kiloelectron volts (keV) or, equivalently, at wavelengths smaller than about 0.1 nanometer (nm).

The Laboratory Astrophysics Prize for 2015, awarded for significant contributions to laboratory astrophysics over an extended period of time, goes to Louis Allamandola (NASA Ames Research Center) for his numerous contributions to the study of ices and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in astronomical environments.

The SPD prizes will be awarded at the Triennial Earth-Sun Summit in Indianapolis, Indiana, in April 2015. The AAS and HEAD prizes will be awarded at the 227th AAS meeting in Kissimmee, Florida, in January 2016. The LAD prize will be presented at the 228th AAS meeting in San Diego, California, in June 2016.

Rick Fienberg
AAS Press Officer
+1 202-328-2010 x116

More information about AAS and Division prizes, along with lists of past recipients, can be found at

Photos of the new AAS prizewinners are available from Crystal Tinch at the AAS Executive Office.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899 and based in Washington, DC, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Its membership of about 8,000 individuals also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research and educational interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity's scientific understanding of the universe. Among its many activities, the AAS publishes two of the leading peer-reviewed journals in the field: the Astrophysical Journal and the Astronomical Journal.