Press Release

Astronomers Honored for Excellence in Research, Education, Writing & More

By SpaceRef Editor
January 21, 2011
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At its 217th semi-annual meeting last week in Seattle, Washington, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) named the recipients of its 2011 prizes for achievements in research, instrument development, education, and writing. The honorees range from college students to distinguished senior astronomers.

The Society’s prestigious Henry Norris Russell Lectureship went to Dr. Sandra M. Faber (University of California, Santa Cruz) “for a lifetime of seminal contributions to galaxy evolution and dynamics, the distribution of the mysterious ‘dark matter’ in the universe, for leading the construction of astronomical instrumentation, and for mentoring future leading astronomers.”

The Newton Lacy Pierce Prize for outstanding achievement in observational research by an early-career astronomer went to Dr. Gaspar Bakos (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) “for the impact he has had on the study of exoplanets, his contributions to our understanding of the unexpected diversity of exoplanet properties, and the extraordinary entrepreneurial spirit and capability he has shown in the development of one of the most successful systems for detecting transiting extrasolar planets (HATNet).”

The Helen B. Warner Prize for a significant contribution to observational or theoretical astronomy by an early-career scientist went to Dr. Steven R. Furlanetto (University of California, Los Angeles) “for his theoretical work in the field of high-redshift cosmology, including groundbreaking work on the epoch of reionization and its observational signatures, opening up new pathways to the study of reionization in the redshifted 21-cm hydrogen line.”

This year’s Joseph Weber Award for instrumentation went to Dr. Edward S. Cheng (Conceptual Analytics, Glenn Dale, Maryland) “for his critical contributions to the development of several key instruments on the Hubble Space Telescope,” in particular his efforts toward the creation and/or repair of three of Hubble’s cameras and spectrographs.

The Dannie Heineman Prize in Astrophysics, awarded in partnership with the American Institute of Physics, recognizes outstanding work by mid-career astronomers. The 2011 Heineman Prize goes to Dr. Robert P. Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) “for his sustained and enduring contributions to our understanding of supernovae and cosmology.” The award committee called special attention to Kirshner’s work with students using supernova light curves as calibrated standard candles, which has provided evidence for an accelerating expansion of the universe. “The dark energy inferred from this result is one of the deepest mysteries of modern science.”

The George Van Biesbroeck Prize honors a living individual for long-term extraordinary or unselfish service to astronomy. Dr. David S. Leckrone (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) is this year’s recipient. The AAS celebrated his “three decades of selfless dedication to the instrumenting, servicing, and science programs of the Hubble Space Telescope, through informed advocacy, technical management, and outreach to diverse constituencies in education, government, the science community, and the general public.”

The 2011 Education Prize was awarded to Dr. Grace Deming (University of Maryland, College Park) “for blazing the trail of astronomy education research; providing us with the Astronomy Diagnostic Test, the first means within our discipline to assess the success of our instruction; tirelessly promoting the use of research to guide our instruction; and educating us about the importance of collaborative group learning to improve student understanding.”

The Annie Jump Cannon Award for outstanding research and promise for future research by a woman went to Dr. Rachel Mandelbaum (Princeton University) “for her groundbreaking contributions to the field of weak gravitational lensing of galaxies. Her work on understanding and eliminating numerous systematic effects inherent in weak lensing data have advanced this technique to the point where it can now be used with confidence for precision cosmology.”

The Chambliss Astronomical Writing Award for an academic book went to Dr. Hale Bradt (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for ‘Astrophysics Processes: The Physics of Astronomical Phenomena’ (Cambridge University Press, 2008). Said one reviewer, “The author’s engaging writing style makes this a very enjoyable book. Each topic starts with interesting observational material, then goes to a discussion of the physical concepts, amplified by mathematics, and very good figures, and then ties it up by finishing with more observational applications, either solving the problem posed at the beginning of the chapter or presenting new ones.”

Recognizing the contribution of nonprofessionals to the advancement of astronomical research, the AAS gave the Chambliss Amateur Achievement Award to R. Jay GaBany of San Jose, California, “who has single-handedly, through his dedicated and careful work, spawned a new research direction in the exploration of galaxy evolution via low-surface-brightness imaging of galaxy halo substructure.” GaBany has devoted hundreds of hours working with professional astronomers to make deep images that reveal faint tidal streams and rings in the outer halos of galaxies, indicative of recent and ongoing galaxy interactions with dwarf satellites, supporting studies of galaxy formation.

At the Seattle AAS meeting, more than 300 students presented poster papers based on their research and competed for the Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Student Awards. Seventy-three professional astronomers fanned out across the exhibit hall to judge these presentations over several days, resulting in the awarding of 14 Chambliss medals for exemplary research. Graduate-student winners were Jana Bilikova (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), Lia Corrales (Columbia University), Christopher Crockett (Lowell Observatory), Curtis McCully (Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey), Amanda Moffett (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), Farisa Y. Morales (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), and Erik J. Tollerud (University of California, Irvine). Undergraduate winners were Marshall Johnson (Wesleyan University), Luke Leisman (Calvin College), Jennifer Nielsen (University of Missouri, Kansas City), Grant Remmen (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities), Justin Spilker (Iowa State University), Alexa Villaume (Maria Mitchell Observatory), and Stephanie Zajac (California State Polytechnic University).

Division Prizes

The AAS’s five subject-specific divisions also award prizes, and two of them have just selected their 2011 recipients.

The Solar Physics Division’s George Ellery Hale Prize, for outstanding contributions to the field of solar astronomy over an extended period of time, has been awarded to Dr. Henk Spruit (Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics) “for insightful and pioneering work on the structure of magnetic flux tubes and sunspots and on their interaction with the flow of energy in the solar convection zone.” The Karen Harvey Prize, recognizing a significant contribution to the study of the Sun early in a person’s professional career, goes to Dr. Matthias Rempel (High-Altitude Observatory, National Center for Atmospheric Research) “for groundbreaking work on the structure of sunspots and on flows and magnetic fields in the solar convection zone, and particularly for bringing state-of-the-art numerical methods to bear on these problems.”

The High Energy Astrophysics Division’s 2011 Bruno Rossi Prize is awarded to Dr. Bill Atwood (University of California, Santa Cruz), Dr. Peter Michelson (Stanford University), and the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope/LAT team “for enabling, through the development of the Large Area Telescope, new insights into neutron stars, supernova remnants, cosmic rays, binary systems, active galactic nuclei, and gamma-ray bursts.”

More information about AAS and Division prizes, along with lists of past recipients, can be found here:

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Complete citations for all of the AAS prizes mentioned above are available from AAS Press Officer Dr. Rick Fienberg at the e-mail address and phone number at the top of this release (and again below).

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 7,500 individuals also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research and educational interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now 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 three of the leading peer-reviewed journals in the field: The Astrophysical Journal (, The Astronomical Journal (, and Astronomy Education Review (

SpaceRef staff editor.