13 October 2020

Geoffrey Blake & Javier García Honored by Laboratory Astrophysics Division

Randall Smith Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian

Rachel Smith NC Museum of Natural Sciences/Appalachian State Univ.

This post is adapted from two Laboratory Astrophysics Division press releases (#1, #2):

The AAS Laboratory Astrophysics Division (LAD) has announced two of its scientific prizes for 2021:

  1. The Laboratory Astrophysics Prize, LAD’s highest honor, is given to an individual who has made significant contributions to laboratory astrophysics over an extended period of time. For 2021 the prize goes to Prof. Geoffrey Blake (Caltech) for his fundamental contributions to spectroscopic and observational studies of the chemistry of the interstellar medium, star-forming regions, disks, comets, and exoplanetary atmospheres.
  2. LAD's Early Career Award is given to an individual who has made significant contributions to the field within 10 years of receiving a PhD. For 2021 the award goes to Dr. Javier García (Caltech) for his calculations of atomic data and implementation of relativistic reflection models to understand accreting black holes and neutron stars.

Geoffrey BlakeFor at least the past three decades Geoffrey Blake has been a leading figure in laboratory astrophysics, pioneering new experimental techniques while blazing new paths in observational astrophysics. As a graduate student he helped to develop two experimental techniques to study transient species and stable molecules and applied them to the submillimeter spectra of molecular clouds. He later extended this approach to make the first measurement of the electric dipole moment of a molecular ion and developed the new field of terahertz (THz) vibrational-rotational tunneling spectroscopy while a postdoctoral associate. After he joined Caltech as an assistant professor, he applied these methods to astronomical and planetary ices and biopolymers. More recently, Blake’s research has focused on the evolution of molecular complexity in star- and planet-formation and in protoplanetary disks through observation, laboratory study, and radiative transfer modeling. To facilitate these measurements he made contributions to new experimental approaches including in the microwave and THz domains. This led to his discovery of interstellar propylene oxide and measurements of optical constants of gases, ices, and refractory materials from the far-infrared into the millimeter-wave spectrum. Prof. Blake is also known for his extraordinary dedication to the mentoring of students and early career scientists.

Blake received his BS in chemistry from Duke University and his PhD in chemical physics from the California Institute of Technology. Following two postdoctoral fellowships he joined Caltech as a professor. He has been a David and Lucille Packard Fellow and an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow and received an NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award. Blake has played a large role in service to the greater astrophysics community, serving as deputy director of the Owens Valley Radio Observatory; scientific advisor to numerous astronomical observatories, including the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy; and member of the NSF Astronomy Portfolio Review Committee.

Javier GarciaJavier García has established a unique career at the intersection of computational atomic physics and high-energy photoionization/spectral modeling. He performed atomic structure calculations and photoionization computations for medium-atomic-number elements, developed improved X-ray absorption models of the interstellar medium, performed a recalibration of the high-energy detectors on the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, and is leading a project on the effects of high density on plasma calculations. However, García is primarily known for his work on modeling the ionization structure and spectra of X-ray-heated accretion disks around black holes and neutron stars. He is now leading projects on the analysis of vast archival X-ray observations using new reflection and spectral-timing models. He has been an advocate for the importance of laboratory astrophysics, particularly atomic physics data relevant to X-ray observations.

García received a BS in physics from La Universidad del Zulia and an MS in physics from the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research, both in Venezuela. In 2010 he received his PhD in physics from the Catholic University of America. He was a research associate at Western Michigan University and at the University of Maryland before becoming a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in 2012. He then moved to Caltech, first as a postdoc and then as a research assistant professor. He was also appointed Senior Alexander von Humboldt Fellow in 2016, working at the Dr. Karl-Remeis Observatory in Bamberg, Germany. García is a member of the operations team for NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and on the science working groups for three new X-ray astronomy missions: Athena, Lynx, and the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE).

Both LAD prizes include a cash award, a framed certificate, and an invited lecture by the recipient at a meeting of the AAS Laboratory Astrophysics Division.