15 January 2014

AAS Announces 2014 Award Recipients

At its 223rd semiannual meeting last week in Washington, DC, the American Astronomical Society (AAS), the major organization of professional astronomers in North America, named the recipients of its 2014 prizes for outstanding achievements in research, public policy, instrument development, education, and writing.

The Henry Norris Russell Lecture for 2014 is awarded to George B. Field for a lifetime of contributions to our basic understanding of diffuse plasmas in the universe, which continue to motivate current astronomers. As the founding director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, he created a significant institution to advance astronomy. His visionary leadership of the 1980 decadal survey in astronomy and astrophysics remains a landmark in science policy that brought powerful new instrumental capabilities to the astronomical community.

The inaugural AAS Award for Public Service to the Astronomical Sciences is presented to Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Maryland) for her leadership and steadfast support of science and technology, and in particular the astronomical sciences, in the United States. Through her leadership on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Mikulski has been an important advocate for increased federal investment in research and education. Sen. Mikulski has also played an important role during crisis moments in the field such as the decision on whether NASA should undertake a final Hubble servicing mission following the Columbia accident. In a letter thanking the AAS for the award, Mikulski writes, "You can count on me to stand sentry over federal funding to ensure that America remains the innovative leader in space exploration and scientific discovery."

The George Van Biesbroeck Prize honors a living individual for long-term extraordinary or unselfish service to astronomy, often beyond the requirements of his or her paid position. This year’s recipient is Michael Hauser, who established and led the infrared group at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and later, as deputy director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, played a key part in turning STScI into a multi-mission institution. Throughout his career, Hauser has had wide-ranging influence as a mentor to younger scientists, including Nobel laureate John Mather. He also has served on an unusually large number of committees, often as chair, helping to guide major space-astronomy missions and long-term strategic plans.

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 2014 prize goes to Piero Madau (University of California, Santa Cruz) for fundamental contributions to our understanding of the era of first light in the universe, the ionization and heating of the intergalactic medium, and the formation and evolution of galaxies.

The Annie Jump Cannon Award for outstanding research and promise for the future by a postdoctoral woman scientist goes to Emily Levesque (University of Colorado, Boulder) for her innovative work using gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) to explore fundamental questions of stellar astrophysics and cosmology. Her broad expertise has led to impactful work in several different areas, including the metallicity characteristics of the interstellar environments of GRB host galaxies, the effects of stellar rotation on the ionization environment and the implications for measuring extragalactic stellar populations, and the fundamental properties of red supergiants. Her work has provided a deeper understanding of stars near and far and will inspire their use as important cosmological probes.

This year’s recipient of the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize for observational research by a young astronomer is Nadia L. Zakamska (Johns Hopkins University) for her multi-wavelength work on Type II quasars, which has characterized these energetic sources in detail and led to the current “standard model” of quasars. Zakamska is also cited for her work on finding direct evidence for outflows driven by active galactic nuclei (AGN), regarded as an essential ingredient in galaxy-formation models for regulating star formation. Her observational and theoretical work has shown that “feedback” from AGN is occurring on scales of tens of thousands of light-years.

The Helen B. Warner Prize for observational or theoretical research by a young astronomer is awarded to Christopher M. Hirata (Ohio State University) for his remarkable cosmological studies, particularly his observational and theoretical work on weak gravitational lensing, one of the most important tools for assessing the distribution of mass in the universe. Hirata is cited for his work on cosmological recombination, structure formation, and dark energy and cosmic acceleration, and for the extraordinary depth of understanding he brings to these subjects. His work is facilitating the next generation of important cosmological experiments.

The Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize recognizes an outstanding research contribution of an exceptionally creative or innovative character. Chris Lintott (Oxford University and Adler Planetarium) is this year’s awardee. With great insight and creativity, he created a transformative approach to science by engaging nonscientists in cutting-edge research via Zooniverse.org. He demonstrated the unique capabilities of “crowdsourcing” to attack otherwise intractable problems and, in the process, created a unique educational tool that is also an unparalleled public-outreach phenomenon.

Sander Weinreb (Caltech) is receiving the Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation in recognition of his seminal innovations that have helped define modern-day radio astronomy, including digital autocorrelation spectrometers and cryogenic low-noise amplifiers and mixers. Weinreb is also cited for providing outstanding leadership for radio-astronomy instrumentation, especially for the electronics system of the Very Large Array. His innovations have been utilized in all radio observatories and have enabled countless astronomical discoveries.

The AAS Education Prize goes to Deidre Hunter (Lowell Observatory), who co-founded and runs a science-education program for middle-school Navajo and Hopi students and teachers in Arizona and New Mexico. She has brought a direct personal connection to astronomy to program participants and has made science relevant in a manner respectful of tribal knowledge and worldviews. Hunter is additionally cited for tirelessly mentoring numerous undergraduate and graduate students, for connecting professional astronomers to local science educators, and for her public-outreach efforts involving Lowell Observatory in the life of the surrounding community.

The Chambliss Astronomical Writing Award for an advanced undergraduate or graduate-level textbook goes to George Rieke (University of Arizona) for his primer on observation and measurement in modern astronomy, Measuring the Universe: A Multiwavelength Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2012). Rieke reviews the underlying operational principles of current instrumentation and techniques, often inserting historical perspective and wisdom to help readers become better and more well-informed practitioners. Exercises at the end of each chapter reinforce this personalized educational approach, with solutions to selected problems and color figures available online. Books like Rieke’s serve a vital role in astronomers’ professional development.

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 223rd meeting in Washington, DC, the Kavli Foundation Plenary Lectureship went to Robert E. Williams (Space Telescope Science Institute), who spoke on the Hubble Deep Field (HDF) and its legacy. The HDF was a game changer in many ways, and not just because it took advantage of the Hubble Space Telescope’s remarkable sensitivity and spatial resolution to reveal the evolution of galaxies over most of the history of the universe. It was the first unique, non-proprietary, fully reduced astronomical dataset to be released to the scientific community so soon after the observations were taken. It’s no exaggeration to say that Williams invented a new way to do astronomy, one that has yielded tremendous benefits for cosmology and, just as important, one that has brought to the public in one image a “core sample” of the universe that they could easily comprehend and with which they could personally identify.

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. James Lemen (Lockheed Martin Solar & Astrophysics Lab) spoke on the study of solar activity using the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) aboard NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which has been in space since early 2010. High-resolution images from the AIA over a wide range of wavelengths have clarified our understanding of how the solar magnetic field drives coronal evolution on various scales. Lemen was specifically cited for his paper, with numerous coauthors, “The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) on the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO),” published in the journal Solar Physics (2012, vol. 275, pp. 17-40).

Most of the AAS’s six subject-specific divisions also award prizes, and one of them — the High Energy Astrophysics Division (HEAD) — has just announced some of its 2014 awardees. The HEAD Bruno Rossi Prize is given for a significant contribution to high-energy astrophysics, with particular emphasis on recent, original work. This year's prize goes to Douglas Finkbeiner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), Tracy Slatyer (MIT), and Meng Su (MIT) for their discovery, in gamma rays, of the large, unanticipated galactic structure now called the “Fermi bubbles.” This surprising finding has stimulated additional observations at other wavelengths as well as computer simulations to understand the bubbles' origins. The prize-winners' 2010 paper reporting the discovery has garnered more than 200 citations in only three years.

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 http://aas.org/grants-prizes-and-awards.

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 7,500 individuals also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research and educational interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now 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.