14 April 2021

2021 Pierce Prize Goes to Courtney Dressing


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The American Astronomical Society (AAS), the major organization of professional astronomers in North America, has named one last prize recipient for 2021, adding to the ones announced in January and February. The Society’s Board of Trustees approved the additional award at its monthly teleconference last week, ratifying the recommendation of the AAS prize committee.

Courtney DressingThe 2021 Newton Lacy Pierce Prize in Astronomy goes to Courtney Dressing (University of California, Berkeley) "for her leading contributions that have dramatically advanced our understanding of the formation rate, composition, and evolution of planets around low-mass M dwarf stars." The Pierce Prize is awarded annually for outstanding achievement, over the preceding five years, in observational astronomical research. It is given to an astronomer who has not attained 36 years of age in the year designated for the award.

Dressing's research focuses on detecting and characterizing planetary systems orbiting nearby stars. She uses ground- and space-based telescopes to search for exoplanets, probe their atmospheres, measure their masses, and constrain their bulk compositions. "I am curious about how planets form and evolve with time, the frequency of planetary systems in the galaxy, and the prospects for detecting life on planets outside of our solar system," she says. "I am particularly interested in red dwarfs — stars that are significantly smaller, cooler, and more numerous than stars like the Sun. Planets orbiting such stars are more easily detectable than planets orbiting larger stars, and recent surveys have revealed that red dwarfs frequently host potentially habitable planets."

“The AAS is delighted to recognize Courtney's outstanding achievements with this prestigious early career prize,” says AAS President Paula Szkody (University of Washington). “I hope this serves as an inspiration for all young researchers and an incentive for departments and colleagues to nominate deserving candidates in the future."

Dressing earned her bachelor's degree in the astrophysical sciences at Princeton University and her master's and PhD degrees in astronomy and astrophysics at Harvard University. After a two-year NASA Sagan postdoctoral fellowship at Caltech, she secured an appointment as assistant professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, where she has worked since mid-2017. She has received a Sloan Research Fellowship, Hellman Faculty Fellowship, and Packard Fellowship. She also participated on the Science & Technology Definition Team for the Large Ultraviolet/Optical/Infrared (LUVOIR) Surveyor mission and served on the Science Panel on Exoplanets, Astrobiology, and the Solar System for the Astro2020 Decadal Survey.


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

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  • Courtney Dressing

About the AAS

The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Its membership of more than 8,000 also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising the astronomical sciences. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity's scientific understanding of the universe, which it achieves through publishing, meeting organization, education and outreach, science advocacy, and training and professional development.