Press Release

2011 Award Winners in Astronomy Research & Education

By SpaceRef Editor
June 16, 2011
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The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) today announces the winners of its 2011 awards for excellence in astronomy research and education.

The Maria and Eric Muhlmann Award is given annually to recognize recent significant observational results made possible by innovative advances in astronomical instrumentation and techniques. The 2011 winner of the award is Dr. Gaspar Bakos of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for his development of the Hungarian-made Automated Telescope Network (HATNet). HATNet is a suite of fully automated, small-aperture photometric telescopes whose primary purpose is to detect extra-solar planets in orbits that carry them in front of their parent stars as viewed from Earth. The periodic dips in the brightness of these stars as the “exoplanets” transit their disks reveal the presence of the planets. HATNet-detected exoplanets have been formative in the development of scientific understanding of exoplanetary systems, and Bakos’ work has advanced technology to reach high photometric precision on wide fields with many stars. His efforts have provided prime targets for follow up studies by the Spitzer Space Telescope with small error bars on exoplanet radii and orbital parameters. For his innovative development of ground-based robotic photometric exoplanet detection methods and associated analysis tools, Gaspar Bakos is recognized with the Muhlmann Award.

The Robert J. Trumpler Award for outstanding recent Ph.D. thesis is awarded to Dr. Philip Hopkins, currently a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley. Hopkins’ thesis on galaxy and supermassive black hole formation, titled “A Physical Model for the Fueling and Evolution of Quasars in Galaxy Mergers,” was written while he was a student at Harvard University and is considered to have caused a substantial revision in astronomers’ understanding of these objects and their formation and growth. His thesis work has resulted in a new picture of the time evolution and luminosity function of quasars, and a new foundation for characterizing the observed structure of elliptical galaxies and the relationship between them and the supermassive black holes they harbor. The thesis has resulted in more than 30 scientific papers — for which Hopkins was the lead author on more than 20; these papers have been cited in the publications of other astronomers more than 2,000 times. For his major contributions to the modeling and understanding of galaxy formation, black holes and quasar phenomena, Philip Hopkins receives the Trumpler Award.

The Richard H. Emmons Award for excellence in the teaching of college-level introductory astronomy for non-science majors goes to Dr. Douglas Duncan of the University of Colorado and the Fiske Planetarium in Boulder, Colorado. Duncan, a faculty member in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences and Director of the Fiske, is honored for his innovative teaching methods in introductory university astronomy courses, using wireless student response devices called “clickers” and “learning assistants” to engage students in interactive learning. His book Clickers in the Classroom describes how to use the wireless devices effectively in learning environments. Duncan also shares his expertise by co-teaching an “Excellence in Teaching” seminar for graduate students, and has written extensively on teaching methodologies for college astronomy courses.

The Thomas J. Brennan Award for excellence in the teaching of astronomy at the high school level is awarded to Mark S. Reed of Jackson High School in Jackson, Michigan. Reed has taught astronomy there for 23 years, and teaches as well at Jackson’s Lumen Christi High School. Among his accomplishments is the revitalization of the high school’s Peter F. Hurst Planetarium, of which he became director in 1992 and which he uses extensively in his innovative teaching — serving his classes, the high school and the surrounding area. He has assisted in the retrofit of the Jackson County Intermediate School District’s Camp McGregor Observatory, where he is a lead teacher helping local high school students learn about CCD imaging.

This year’s Klumpke-Roberts Award for outstanding contributions to the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy honors Dr. Paul Davies of Arizona State University in Phoenix. The British-born theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and astrobiologist is Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science and Co-Director of the Cosmology Initiative, both at Arizona State. A respected researcher, Davies is considered one of today’s foremost authors, lecturers and popularizers of science, especially of astronomical subjects. His 30 published books include The Mind of God, The Fifth Miracle, The Goldilocks Enigma, and most recently, The Eerie Silence: Renewing our Search for Alien Intelligence. Among his many awards are the Templeton Prize, the Faraday Medal of the Royal Society of London, and the Kelvin Medal of the Institute of Physics–to which he now adds the Klumpke-Roberts Award for his extensive and insightful contributions to the popularization of science in general and astronomy in particular.

The Amateur Achievement Award recognizes significant observational or technical contributions by an amateur astronomer. This year’s recipient is Kevin Apps of London, England for his singular efforts in advancing the fields of extra-solar planet research and stellar astrophysics. For more than a decade, Apps has worked as a non-paid amateur astronomer with professional “exoplanet” hunters Geoff Marcy, Debra Fischer and others on the California Planet Search team, identifying target stars and helping to establish new methods for calibrating the metallicity (the proportion of chemical content beyond hydrogen and helium) of M dwarf stars to determine good candidates for observation. His work has contributed to the discovery of some 20 exoplanets and he is the co-author of more than 20 scientific papers with his professional colleagues. He is credited with co-discovery of the 10th, 11th, and 12th known exoplanets, which, according to Marcy, makes Apps “the first British citizen to be involved in a planet discovery since Herschel and Adams found Uranus and Neptune.” For his extraordinary accomplishments in astronomy, Kevin Apps wins the Amateur Achievement Award.

The Las Cumbres Amateur Outreach Award, honoring outstanding educational outreach by an amateur astronomer to K-12 children and the public, goes to Lonnie Puterbaugh of Brentwood, Tennessee. The centerpiece of Puterbaugh’s contribution to astronomy outreach is “The Astronomy Channel,” a minivan that he modified to function as a mobile display center and observatory. He travels up to hundreds of miles to student and public events sponsored by local and neighboring astronomy clubs and organizations to bring the universe to attendees. His van is equipped with a variety of electronic gear that lets him entertain and inform the public about astronomy even if cloudiness prevents sky observing; his arsenal of programs includes music, video and electronic images of celestial objects. His long-standing work to provide astronomy experiences to a wide-ranging segment of the population merits Lonnie Puterbaugh this year’s Las Cumbres award.

The ASP previously announced Dr. Jeremiah P. Ostriker of Princeton University as the 2011 recipient of the Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal for lifetime achievement in astronomy. Ostriker, a theoretical astrophysicist, has been particularly active in computational cosmology, working on the development of sophisticated numerical simulations of the evolution of the early universe and the formation of structure in cosmology, including galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and the intergalactic medium. He has done seminal research on dark matter and dark energy, and was influential in Princeton’s leadership on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

“This year’s honorees demonstrate a remarkable array of achievement in research, education and popularization of astronomy and science,” said James Manning, ASP Executive Director. “The ASP is proud to recognize these individuals for their accomplishments and as inspirations to us all.” The awards will be presented at the ASP awards banquet on August 2 in Baltimore, Maryland, as part of the Society’s annual national meeting.

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Information about the ASP:

More information about the Society’s awards and past winners:

Founded in 1889 in San Francisco, the ASP’s mission is to increase the understanding and appreciation of astronomy — by engaging scientists, educators, enthusiasts and the public — to advance science and science literacy. The ASP publishes both scholarly and educational materials, conducts professional development programs for formal and informal educators, and holds conferences, symposia and workshops for astronomers and educators specializing in education and public outreach. The ASP’s education programs are funded by corporations, private foundations, the National Science Foundation, NASA, private donors, and its own members.

SpaceRef staff editor.