12 January 2021

AAS Names Recipients of 2021 Awards & Prizes


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At its 237th semiannual meeting under way virtually this week, the American Astronomical Society (AAS), the major organization of professional astronomers in North America, announced the recipients of its 2021 prizes for outstanding achievements in research and education.

The 2021 Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, celebrating a career of eminence in astronomical research, goes to Nick Scoville (Caltech) for lifelong contributions to our understanding of molecular gas and star formation in the Milky Way and other galaxies, for visionary leadership, and for inspiring generations of early career astronomers. He guided early surveys of molecular gas in the Milky Way and nearby galaxies, led the expansion of the Caltech millimeter-wave array, and initiated and led the Cosmic Evolution Survey (COSMOS) of high-redshift galaxies. He also developed theory for molecular excitation, infrared emission from star formation, and the evolution of starburst galaxies and active galactic nuclei.

The Dannie Heineman Prize for outstanding mid-career work in astrophysics is given jointly by the AAS and the American Institute of Physics (AIP). For 2021 the prize goes to Robert Lupton (Princeton University) and David Weinberg (Ohio State University) for their essential contributions to facilitating, guiding, and participating in transformative science resulting from modern large-scale astronomical surveys at optical wavelengths, in particular the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

2021 AAS Prizewinners
Left to right: Nick Scoville, Robert Lupton, David Weinberg, Laura Kreidberg, Chris Impey.

The 2021 Annie Jump Cannon Award in Astronomy, for outstanding research and promise for future research by a female researcher within five years after earning her PhD, goes to Laura Kreidberg (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy) for her pioneering research on the structure, composition, and dynamics of exoplanet atmospheres. Her efforts in combining theoretical models with precise observations from space-based telescopes have laid a foundation for comparative planetology beyond the solar system. She has also been a leader in the exoplanet community, spearheading initiatives for large projects with the Hubble and Webb telescopes.

The AAS Education Prize recognizes outstanding contributions to the education of the public, students, and/or the next generation of professional astronomers. For 2021 the recipient is Chris Impey (University of Arizona) for his national and international impact through his outstanding teaching of thousands of students at his home university and, via the web, worldwide; his countless talks and articles about astronomy and astronomy education over the years; his influential development of several strands of astronomy education research with his group at the University of Arizona; his excellent writing for nonscientists in his introductory textbooks, his popular books, his Teach Astronomy website, and other web-based learning tools; and his generosity in training so many others in our community to think more clearly about education and to become better teachers themselves.

Special Honors at the 237th 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. On Monday, 11 January, the Fred Kavli Plenary Lecture, “The North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav),” was given by Paul B. Demorest (National Radio Astronomy Observatory). This American-Canadian project, in which Demorest plays a leading role, aims to detect very-low-frequency gravitational radiation from a variety of cosmic sources, including binary supermassive black holes orbiting each other in the centers of galaxies. Unlike the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) in the US and its counterpart Virgo in Italy, which are sensitive to high-frequency waves from merging stellar-mass black holes and neutron stars, NANOGrav is attuned to the lazy ripples in space-time caused by the slow dance of more massive and more widely separated black holes.

The closing plenary lecture at this week’s AAS meeting, on Friday afternoon, 15 January, will be presented by Sherry H. Suyu (Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics & Technical University of Munich), recipient of the Lancelot M. Berkeley–New York Community Trust Prize for highly meritorious work in advancing the science of astronomy. The annual Berkeley prize winner is chosen by the three AAS Vice-Presidents, in consultation with the Editor in Chief of the AAS journals, to honor significant research published within the preceding 12 months. In her prize lecture, “H0LiCOW! Cosmology with Gravitational Lens Time Delays,” Suyu will describe the work of the H0LiCOW collaboration, which she leads and is measuring the cosmic expansion rate via observations of multiple images of quasars that are created by the gravitational lensing action of foreground galaxies.

AAS Division Prizes

Most of the AAS’s six subject-specific divisions also award prizes, and three of them -- the Historical Astronomy Division (HAD), Laboratory Astrophysics Division (LAD), and Solar Physics Division (SPD) — recently announced some of their 2021 awardees.

HAD awarded the 2021 Donald E. Osterbrock Book Prize to Ileana Chinnici (INAF/Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo) for her work Decoding the Stars: A Biography of Angelo Secchi, Jesuit and Scientist (Brill 2019). This is the first full-length biography of Italian astronomer Angelo Secchi (1818-1878) in English. Secchi took part in the transition from classical positional astronomy to astrophysics, pioneering spectroscopy and its application to stellar classification and solar physics. Chinnici gave her prize lecture on Monday, 11 January, during a special HAD session at the AAS meeting.

LAD’s highest honor, the Laboratory Astrophysics Prize for significant contributions to laboratory astrophysics over an extended period of time, has been awarded to Geoffrey Blake (Caltech) for fundamental contributions to spectroscopic and observational studies of the chemistry of the interstellar medium, star-forming regions, disks, comets, and exoplanetary atmospheres. Receiving the LAD Early Career Award is Javier García (Caltech) for calculations of atomic data and implementation of relativistic reflection models to understand accreting black holes and neutron stars. Blake and García have been invited to give prize lectures at the 238th AAS meeting, to be held jointly with LAD, in June 2021.

Russell Howard (Naval Research Laboratory) is receiving SPD’s George Ellery Hale Prize, awarded for outstanding contributions to solar astronomy over an extended period of time, for his seminal work on the discovery, measurement, and understanding of coronal mass ejections. SPD’s Karen Harvey Prize, which recognizes a significant contribution to the study of the Sun early in a person’s professional career, goes to Lucia Kleint (University of Geneva, Switzerland) for her contributions to solar polarimetry, radiative transfer modeling, and leadership in next-generation solar instrumentation. Howard and Kleint will receive their prizes at the 52nd SPD meeting in Bellevue, Washington, in August 2021.

Buchalter Cosmology Prizes

Ari Buchalter (Intersection) 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 breakthrough advances in our understanding of the origin, structure, and evolution of the universe beyond current standard cosmological models. The latest winners of the Buchalter prizes were announced at this week’s AAS meeting: The $10,000 First Prize goes to Daniel Green (University of California, San Diego) and Rafael A. Porto (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron) for “Signals of a Quantum Universe,” published in Physical Review Letters. Receiving the $5,000 Second Prize are Mikhail M. Ivanov (New York University & Russian Academy of Sciences), Marko Simonović (CERN), and Matias Zaldarriaga (Institute for Advanced Study) for “Cosmological Parameters from the BOSS Galaxy Power Spectrum,” published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics. The $2,500 Third Prize goes to a 13-member team led by Philip Mocz (Princeton University) for “First Star-Forming Structures in Fuzzy Cosmic Filaments,” published in Physical Review Letters. For more information about these prizewinning articles, see the Buchalter Cosmology Prize website.


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

High-resolution images of the AAS prizewinners are available from Crystal Tinch, AAS Communications & Engagement Coordinator.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Its membership (approx. 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, science advocacy, education and outreach, and training and professional development.