15 January 2016

AAS Announces 2016 Award Recipients

At its 227th semiannual meeting last week in Kissimmee, Florida, the American Astronomical Society (AAS), the major organization of professional astronomers in North America, named the recipients of its 2016 prizes for outstanding achievements in research, instrument development, education, and service.

The 2016 Henry Norris Russell Lectureship for lifetime preeminence in astronomical research is awarded to Christopher F. McKee (University of California, Berkeley) for his innovative ideas, powerful theoretical insights, and practical models that have had significant impact on many areas of astrophysics. The prize committee specifically noted McKee’s research on the interstellar medium and star formation as well as his leadership in the university community and nationally through the astronomy decadal surveys.

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 2016 prize goes to Wendy L. Freedman (University of Chicago) for her outstanding contributions and leadership role in using optical and infrared space- and ground-based observations of Cepheid variable stars, together with innovative analysis techniques, to greatly improve the accuracy of the cosmic distance scale and thereby constrain fundamental cosmological parameters.

The Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize, awarded every other year, recognizes an outstanding research contribution of an exceptionally creative or innovative character. For 2016 the recipient is Andrew Gould (Ohio State University) for his development of gravitational microlensing as an important tool for the discovery and characterization of exoplanets.

The 2016 Annie Jump Cannon Award for outstanding research and promise for the future by a postdoctoral woman scientist goes to Laura A. Lopez (Ohio State University) for her contributions to understanding the birth-to-death cycle of stars in our galaxy. Lopez’s work on supernova remnants, young massive stars, and the interstellar medium spans radio through X-ray wavelengths and bridges the gap between theory and observation.

The 2016 Helen B. Warner Prize for observational or theoretical research by a young astronomer is awarded to Philip F. Hopkins (Caltech) for his research on galaxy formation and evolution and the growth of supermassive black holes. Hopkins builds both numerical and analytic models with strong connections to observational data. His work has provided great insight into the role of galaxy mergers on galaxy properties as well as quasar activation.

This year’s recipient of the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize for observational research by a young astronomer is Karin I. Öberg (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) for her research on the astrochemistry and astrophysics of ices and molecules in star-forming regions and protoplanetary disks. Öberg’s scientific leadership and her comparison of observations and simulations have led to new understanding of the chemical processes taking place in planet-forming circumstellar disks and fundamental advances in the field of star and planet formation.

James J. (Jamie) Bock (Caltech) is receiving the Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation for his development of low noise “spider web” bolometers that enable a broad range of submillimeter and millimeter observations with ground-based, balloon-based, and space-based instruments, leading to critically important measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation.

The AAS Education Prize goes to Lynn R. Cominsky (Sonoma State University) for her long-standing leadership of the Sonoma State University Education and Public Outreach Group, which has had a broad and significant impact both locally and nationally. Cominsky has done extensive work on teacher training and on public outreach for many high-energy-astrophysics missions, including XMM-Newton, Swift, Fermi, and NuSTAR.

The George Van Biesbroeck Prize is awarded every two years for long-term extraordinary or unselfish service to astronomy. The 2016 recipient is Richard (Rick) A. Perley (National Radio Astronomy Observatory), who has been tireless and unrelenting in his career-long service to the global astronomical community, dedicating his unparalleled expertise in radio interferometry to the design, commissioning, and optimization of the world’s premier radio telescope, the Very Large Array. Perley’s 1984 synthesis imaging school in Socorro, New Mexico, is considered the gold standard of training in radio interferometry and has been emulated around the world.

The Chambliss Amateur Achievement Award for exemplary research by an amateur astronomer goes to Daryll LaCourse of Marysville, Washington. LaCourse is a dedicated and talented citizen scientist who has made significant contributions to exoplanet research as a leading member of the Zooniverse Planet Hunters program. Through painstaking examination and independent reanalysis of Kepler data, he has discovered several new exoplanet candidates as well as more than 100 previously unknown eclipsing binary systems.

Special Honors at the 227th AAS Meeting

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 last week’s meeting in Kissimmee, the Kavli Foundation Plenary Lectureship went to S. Alan Stern (Southwest Research Institute), principal investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. Stern attracted a standing-room-only crowd for his early-morning talk, “The Exploration of the Pluto System by New Horizons,” which featured the latest images and other data beamed to Earth since the spacecraft’s July 14th flyby of Pluto, its large moon Charon, and its four smaller moons.

Closing out the Florida AAS 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. Jan Tauber (European Space Agency) is project scientist for the international Plank Collaboration and, as such, helped lead the Planck mission to its groundbreaking success in delivering detailed maps of the cosmic microwave background and precise values of key cosmological parameters. His team’s 2014 report describing these results was the most widely cited astrophysics paper of that year.

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 2016 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. Peter Beiersdorfer (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) is being recognized for his numerous contributions to the study of astronomical environments at extreme-ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths.

The LAD Early Career Award for 2016 goes to François Lique (Université du Havre, France) for his numerous contributions to the study of interstellar processes through theoretical calculations of rate coefficients for the collisional excitation of interstellar molecules by the most abundant neutral species.

SPD’s George Ellery Hale Prize for outstanding contributions to the field of solar astronomy is awarded to Terry G. Forbes (University of New Hampshire) for his significant contributions to the theory of magnetic reconnection, for his development of important new models of the physics of solar flares and coronal mass ejections, and for his achievements mentoring students and junior scientists in the solar physics community.

The 2015 SPD Karen Harvey Prize for a significant contribution to the study of the Sun early in a person’s professional career is awarded to Katharine K. Reeves (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) for her work elucidating the energetics of solar flares and coronal mass ejections, for her leadership within the multinational Hinode/X-Ray Telescope project, and for her strong role in scientific education and public outreach.

The winner of the 2016 HEAD Bruno Rossi Prize for a significant contribution to high-energy astrophysics, with particular emphasis on recent, original work, goes to W. Niel Brandt (Pennsylvania State University), who led the effort to obtain the deepest Chandra fields, enabling the most sensitive cosmological X-ray surveys to date. His work traces the accretion history of supermassive black holes and their coevolution with host galaxies across cosmic time.

The 2016 HEAD Mid-Career Prize is awarded to Sebastian Heinz (University of Wisconsin, Madison) for unveiling the nature of the X-ray binary system Circinus X-1, which showed that the birth fields of neutron stars span a much larger range than previously thought, and for establishing the use of X-ray light echoes to make accurate measurements of distances across the galaxy.

Receiving the 2016 HEAD Dissertation Prize is Ashley King (Stanford University) for her PhD thesis “Outflows from Accreting Black Holes Across the Mass Scale,” which she completed at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Buchalter Cosmology Prizes for 2015

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. The winners of the 2015 Buchalter prizes were announced at the Kissimmee AAS meeting; see Buchalter's press release for details.

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 8,000 individuals also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research and educational interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects 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.