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John Hawley Shares 2013 Shaw Prize for Astronomy

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 - 16:01

At a press conference on 28 May in Hong Kong, the Shaw Prize Foundation announced the Shaw Laureates for 2013. The Shaw Prize consists of three annual prizes: Astronomy, Life Science and Medicine, and Mathematical Sciences, each bearing a monetary award of $1 million. The presentation ceremony is scheduled for Monday, 23 September 2013.

The Shaw Prize in Astronomy is awarded in equal shares to Professor Steven A. Balbus, University of Oxford, and Professor John F. Hawley, University of Virginia, for their discovery and study of the magnetorotational instability and for demonstrating that this instability leads to turbulence and is a viable mechanism for angular-momentum transport in astrophysical accretion disks.

Accretion is a widespread phenomenon in astrophysics. It plays a key role in star formation, mass transfer in stellar binaries, and the growth of supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies. Sources powered by accretion can even outshine those of similar mass powered by nuclear fusion.

Accreting matter typically carries angular momentum, which causes it to flatten into a disk that orbits the central body. It was recognized long ago that disk accretion requires a mechanism for the outward transfer of angular momentum. Moreover, astronomical observations had established that many accretion powered sources are surrounded by disks. However, for many years the mechanism enabling the outward transfer of angular momentum remained elusive. All this was changed by Balbus and Hawley. Their discovery and elucidation of the magnetorotational instability (MRI) provides what to this day remains the only viable mechanism for the outward transfer of angular momentum in accretion disks.

John F. Hawley was born in 1959 in Annapolis, Maryland, and is currently Associate Dean for the Sciences, VITA Professor, and Chair of the Department of Astronomy at the University of Virginia, USA. He obtained his PhD from the University of Illinois in 1984 and was Bantrell Fellow at the California Institute of Technology from 1984 to 1987. He has been associated with the Department of Astronomy at the University of Virginia as since 1987, first as Assistant Professor (1987-1993), then as Associate Professor (1993-1999), and from 1999 as Professor of Astronomy.

Established under the auspices of Mr. Run Run Shaw, the Prize honors individuals, regardless of race, nationality, gender and religious belief, who have achieved significant breakthrough in academic and scientific research or applications and whose work has resulted in a positive and profound impact on mankind.

Congratulations to Steven Balbus and especially to AAS member John Hawley!

[ Adapted from the Shaw Prize Foundation website. ]

Richard Tresch Fienberg
Press Officer
American Astronomical Society (AAS)