AAS/LAD: 2021 Laboratory Astrophysics Prize Goes to Geoffrey Blake

Press Release From: American Astronomical Society
Posted: Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Laboratory Astrophysics Division (LAD) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) is awarding its 2021 Laboratory Astrophysics Prize to Prof. Geoffrey Blake of the California Institute of Technology. This prize is given for his fundamental contributions to spectroscopic and observational studies of the chemistry of the interstellar medium, star-forming regions, disks, comets, and exoplanetary atmospheres.

The Laboratory Astrophysics Prize, LAD’s highest honor, is given to an individual who has made significant contributions to laboratory astrophysics over an extended period of time. For at least the past three decades Prof. Blake has been a leading figure in laboratory astrophysics, pioneering new experimental techniques while blazing new paths in observational astrophysics. As a graduate student he helped to develop two experimental techniques to study transient species and stable molecules and applied them to the submillimeter spectra of molecular clouds. He later extended this approach to make the first measurement of the electric dipole moment of a molecular ion and developed the new field of terahertz (THz) vibrational-rotational tunneling spectroscopy while a postdoctoral associate. After he joined Caltech as an assistant professor, he applied these methods to astronomical and planetary ices and biopolymers.

More recently, Prof. Blake’s research has focused on the evolution of molecular complexity in star- and planet-formation and in protoplanetary disks through observation, laboratory study, and radiative transfer modeling. To facilitate these measurements he made contributions to new experimental approaches including in the microwave and THz domains. This led to his discovery of interstellar propylene oxide and measurements of optical constants of gases, ices, and refractory materials from the far-infrared into the millimeter-wave spectrum. Prof. Blake is also known for his extraordinary dedication to the mentoring of students and early career scientists.

Prof. Blake received his BS in chemistry from Duke University and his PhD in chemical physics from the California Institute of Technology under the supervision of Prof. Thomas G. Phillips. He was a National Science Foundation (NSF) Predoctoral Fellow at Caltech, a Miller Basic Research Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, and then joined Caltech as a professor of cosmochemistry and planetary sciences. In 1999 he was appointed Professor of Chemistry at Caltech. Prof. Blake was a David and Lucille Packard Fellow and an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow and received an NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award. He has played a large role in service to the greater astrophysics community, serving as deputy director of the Owens Valley Radio Observatory; scientific advisor to numerous astronomical observatories, including the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy; and member of the NSF Astronomy Portfolio Review Committee.

The LAD Laboratory Astrophysics Prize includes a cash award, a framed certificate, and an invited lecture at a meeting of the Laboratory Astrophysics Division.

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