17 October 2023

AAS Names Stephen Taylor as Fred Kavli Plenary Lecturer for 243rd Meeting

With support from the Kavli Foundation, the Vice Presidents of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) name a special invited lecturer to kick off each semiannual AAS meeting with a presentation on recent research of great importance. At the 243rd AAS meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, on 8 January 2024, the Fred Kavli Plenary Lecture will be given by Dr. Stephen Taylor, an astrophysicist at Vanderbilt University and Chair of the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) Collaboration.

Stephen Taylor

The work of the NANOGrav Collaboration focuses on the search for nanohertz gravitational waves — long-wavelength distortions in the fabric of spacetime predicted to be caused by the mergers of supermassive black hole pairs across the universe. To detect the background hum of these waves, NANOGrav scientists have spent years assembling meticulous observations of dozens of rapidly spinning, magnetized stellar remnants — pulsars — in the Milky Way. By combining the timing information for this web of pulsars, the team effectively constructed a gravitational-wave detector the size of the galaxy.

Taylor and the NANOGrav Collaboration are being honored for a triumphant culmination of more than 15 years of pulsar timing measurements: in June of 2023, the collaboration announced the first compelling evidence of the predicted nanohertz gravitational-wave background. The detection of the subtle signal of these gravitational waves — which oscillate with periods of years to decades — opens a new window into gravitational-wave astronomy, providing a path to learn about what drives black holes to merge, how often galaxies collide, and how the universe evolved on the largest scales.

NANOGrav is a National Science Foundation-funded Physics Frontiers Center, with additional funding from Canada's NSERC and CIFAR, plus the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. NANOGrav has more than 190 members at over 70 partner institutions, including four-year colleges, research universities, national laboratories, and radio observatories throughout North America and around the globe. NANOGrav is also a member of the International Pulsar Timing Array, which includes the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array in Australia, the European Pulsar Timing Array, and the Indian Pulsar Timing Array. Many of these groups simultaneously reported hints of the same signal detected by the NANOGrav collaboration in June, and future work will continue to be a global collective effort.

NANOGrav Chair Stephen Taylor is a first-generation college student from Northern Ireland with an undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Oxford and a PhD in astrophysics from the University of Cambridge. After his PhD, he was awarded a NASA Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, followed by a NANOGrav Senior Postdoctoral Fellowship at Caltech. He joined the faculty of Vanderbilt University in 2019.

The AAS is delighted to honor Dr. Stephen Taylor and the NANOGrav Collaboration with the January 2024 Fred Kavli Plenary Lectureship.


Susanna Kohler, Editor, AAS Nova
Susanna Kohler
AAS Communications Manager & Press Officer
+1 202-328-2010 x127
Adam Burgasser
AAS Senior Vice President, UC San Diego

Astronomer Stephen Taylor of Vanderbilt University will give the Fred Kavli Plenary Lecture opening the 243rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in New Orleans, Louisiana, on 8 January 2024. Photo provided by Stephen Taylor.

The Kavli Foundation, established in December 2000 by Fred Kavli, a California business leader and philanthropist, is dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of humanity, promoting public understanding of scientific research, and supporting scientists and their work. The foundation’s mission is implemented through an international program of research institutes, professorships, symposia, and other initiatives in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899, is a major international organization of professional astronomers, astronomy educators, and amateur astronomers. Its membership of approximately 8,000 also includes physicists, geologists, engineers, and others whose 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 as a diverse and inclusive astronomical community, which it achieves through publishing, meetings, science advocacy, education and outreach, and training and professional development.

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