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AAS Announces Recipients of 2017 Prizes and Awards

Monday, January 9, 2017 - 15:31

At its 229th semiannual meeting last week in Grapevine, Texas, the AAS named the recipients of its 2017 prizes for outstanding achievements in scientific research, instrument development, and education.

AAS 2017 prizewinners (left to right): Eric Becklin, Lars Bildsten, Rebekah
Dawson, Charlie Conroy, Evan Kirby, Ian McLean, and Hernán Quintana.

The 2017 Henry Norris Russell Lectureship for lifetime preeminence in astronomical research is awarded to Eric Becklin (University of California, Los Angeles) for his leadership role over the last half century in turning infrared astronomy into a fundamental tool for understanding the universe. Becklin has made pioneering discoveries using infrared observations in a wide range of contexts — including the galactic center, star-forming regions, evolved stars, brown dwarfs, exoplanets, and the obscured nuclei of other galaxies — with telescopes on the ground, in the stratosphere, and in space.

The Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics, 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 2017 prize goes to Lars Bildsten (Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics & University of California, Santa Barbara) for his observationally grounded theoretical modeling of stars, which has yielded fundamental insights into the physics of stellar structure and evolution, compact objects, and stellar explosions.

The 2017 Annie Jump Cannon Award for outstanding research and promise for the future by a postdoctoral woman scientist goes to Rebekah Dawson (Pennsylvania State University) for her work modeling the dynamical interactions of exoplanets in multiplanet systems. Her studies help explain exoplanets’ mutual orbital inclinations and eccentricities as well as their migration toward and away from each other and their host star. She has also written influential papers on the global properties of exoplanet systems, which inform us about their formation histories.

Receiving the 2017 Helen B. Warner Prize for observational or theoretical research by a young astronomer is Charlie Conroy (Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), for his work modeling stellar populations and galaxy evolution. He is recognized for his originality and versatility in developing solutions to complex problems in stellar population synthesis and cosmological simulations. He is a world expert in the connection of dark-matter halos to galaxies and has provided critical insights on stellar populations within star clusters, galaxy mass assembly and evolution, and structure formation in a cosmos filled with cold dark matter.

This year’s recipient of the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize for observational research by a young astronomer is Evan Kirby (California Institute of Technology), for his work on the chemical abundances of stars in dwarf galaxies. He has done pioneering work in isolating metallicity variations in late-type stars through medium-resolution spectroscopy and in identifying different stellar populations within faint and distant dwarf galaxies. His work has led to a detailed understanding of the alpha-to-iron abundances in Local Group galaxies and has shown a universality in the mass-metallicity relation of dwarf irregular and dwarf spheroidal galaxies.

Ian S. McLean (University of California, Los Angeles) is the recipient of the 2017 Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation. He is recognized for more than 30 years at the forefront of the development of advanced infrared sensor arrays and for his leadership in the design, construction, and deployment of innovative infrared instruments that have had widespread and fundamental scientific impact across a broad community of astronomers.

The AAS Education Prize goes to Hernán Quintana (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) for his tireless work over more than three decades developing and bringing astronomy education and degree programs into Chilean universities. His work has paved the way for new generations of Chileans to make use of the wealth of astronomy resources in their country and to pursue careers in astronomy. His impressive legacy carries even more weight outside of his country with the development of many of the world’s greatest astronomical observatories.

Special Honors at the 229th AAS Meeting

With 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. Last week in Grapevine, the Kavli Foundation Plenary Lectureship went to William Bottke (Southwest Research Institute), who titled his talk “Early Solar System Bombardment: Exploring the Echoes of Planetary Migration and Lost Ice Giants.”

Launching the meeting’s final day was the recipient of the Lancelot M. Berkeley − New York Community Trust Prize for highly meritorious work in advancing the science of astronomy. Garth D. Illingworth (University of California, Santa Cruz) was cited for his trailblazing work on the formation and evolution of the most distant and earliest galaxies. He titled his prize lecture “Exploring for Galaxies in the First Billion Years with Hubble and Spitzer — Pathfinding for the James Webb Space Telescope.”

AAS Division Prizes

Most of the AAS’s six subject-specific divisions also award prizes, and three of them — the Laboratory Astrophysics Division (LAD), Solar Physics Division (SPD), and High Energy Astrophysics Division (HEAD) — have just announced some of their 2017 awardees.

LAD’s highest honor, the Laboratory Astrophysics Prize, goes to an individual who has made significant contributions to the field over an extended period of time. For 2017 the prize is awarded to James E. (Jim) Lawler (University of Wisconsin, Madison) for his contributions in atomic physics to advance our understanding of galactic nucleosynthesis and chemical evolution. His spectroscopic work has opened a new era of stellar chemistry by advancing our ability to compare nucleosynthesis predictions with accurate relative elemental abundances.

The LAD Early Career Award for 2017 goes to Carolyn Kuranz (University of Michigan) for seminal laboratory experiments in hydrodynamic and radiation processes relevant to astrophysical dynamics.

SPD’s George Ellery Hale Prize for outstanding contributions to the field of solar astronomy is awarded to Manfred Schüssler (Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research) for his contributions to the theory of the solar dynamo, to understanding the dynamics of buoyant convection-zone magnetic flux tubes, to modeling the structure and dynamics of solar surface magnetic fields, and to the education and training of young solar physicists.

SPD’s Karen Harvey Prize for a significant contribution to the study of the Sun early in a person's professional career is awarded to Chun Ming (Mark) Cheung (Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory) for his numerical investigations of magnetic flux emergence in turbulent convection, for his studies of the dynamic corona via novel data inversion and data-driven modeling techniques, and for his mentoring of young researchers.

HEAD awards the Bruno Rossi Prize annually for a significant contribution to high-energy astrophysics, with particular emphasis on recent, original work. In 2017 the Rossi Prize is awarded to Gabriela Gonzalez (Louisiana State University) and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) Scientific Collaboration for the first direct detections of gravitational waves, the discovery of merging black-hole binaries, and beginning the new era of gravitational-wave astronomy.

Buchalter Cosmology Prizes

Ari Buchalter (MediaMath) is an astrophysicist-turned-businessman who remains keenly interested in cosmology. In 2014 he endowed the Buchalter Cosmology Prizes to reward new ideas or discoveries that have the potential to produce a breakthrough advance in our understanding of the origin, structure, and evolution of the universe beyond current standard cosmological models. The latest winners of the Buchalter 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes were announced in Grapevine and are Nima Khosravi (Shahid Beheshti University & Institute for Research in Fundamental Sciences, Iran), Elliot Nelson (Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Canada), and the team of Cliff Burgess (McMaster University, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, and CERN), Richard Holman (Carnegie Mellon University), Gianmassimo Tasinato (University of Portsmouth, UK), and Matthew Williams (McMaster University & Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics), respectively. For details about their work, see Buchalter’s press release.

Richard Tresch Fienberg
Press Officer
AAS Press Officer
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