Press Release

Astronomers Honored for Excellence in Research, Education & Writing

By SpaceRef Editor
January 14, 2010
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At its winter meeting last week in Washington, DC, the American Astronomical Society honored more than a dozen distinguished astronomers for their achievements in research, instrument development, education, and writing. The latest recipients of the annual AAS awards and prizes run the gamut from college students to senior faculty members.

The Society’s most prestigious award, the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, went to Dr. Margaret J. Geller (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) “for a lifetime of work on the distribution and clustering of galaxies in the universe and for her notable success in describing this work to the public.”

The Newton Lacy Pierce Prize for outstanding achievement in observational research by an early-career astronomer went to Dr. Tommaso Treu (University of California, Santa Barbara) “for his insightful work into the physical understanding of the formation and evolution of galaxies, groups, and clusters.”

The Helen B. Warner Prize for a significant contribution to observational or theoretical astronomy by an early-career scientist went to Dr. Scott Ransom (National Radio Astronomy Observatory) “for his astrophysical insight and innovative technical leadership enabling the discovery of exotic, millisecond, and young pulsars and their application for tests of fundamental physics.”

Dr. Drake Deming (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center) was cited “for his innovative and pioneering work detecting thermal infrared emission from transiting extrasolar planets using the Spitzer Space Telescope” and is this year’s recipient of the Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize for especially innovative research.

This year’s Joseph Weber Award for instrumentation went to Dr. Donald Hall (Institute for Astronomy, Honolulu, Hawaii) “for his innovative contributions to the development of low-noise detectors for observational infrared astronomy that have enabled decades of scientific discoveries.”

The Dannie Heineman Prize, awarded in partnership with the American Institute of Physics, recognizes outstanding work in the field of astrophysics by mid-career astronomers. The 2010 Heineman Prize was bestowed upon Drs. Edward W. “Rocky” Kolb and Michael S. Turner (both University of Chicago) “for their joint fundamental contributions to cosmology and their development of the field of particle astrophysics, which have resulted in a vibrant community effort to understand the early universe.”

The George Van Biesbroeck Prize honors a living individual for long-term extraordinary or unselfish service to astronomy. Dr. Virginia L. Trimble (University of California, Irvine) is this year’s recipient. The AAS celebrated “her many years of dedicated service to the national and international communities of astronomers, including her expert assessments of progress in all fields of astrophysics and her significant roles in supporting organizations, boards, committees, and foundations in the cause of astronomy.”

The 2010 Education Prize was awarded to Dr. Philip M. Sadler (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) for developing the StarLab portable planetarium and “for opening our minds to the misconceptions and reasoning difficulties held by teachers and students about astronomy, and the role that understanding these misconceptions and reasoning difficulties plays in improving teaching and learning.”

The Annie Jump Cannon Award for outstanding research and promise for future research by a woman went to Dr. Anna Frebel (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) “for her pioneering work in advancing our understanding of the earliest epochs of the Milky Way Galaxy through the study of its oldest stars.”

The Chambliss Astronomical Writing Award for an academic book went to Dr. Dan Maoz (Tel-Aviv University, Israel). The award committee called his advanced undergraduate textbook ‘Astrophysics in a Nutshell’ “a wide-ranging treatment of topics from stellar structure to cosmology…[that] explains crucial physics with sufficient depth to capture students’ curiosity without getting lost in detail.”

Recognizing the contribution of nonprofessionals to the advancement of astronomical research, the AAS gave the Chambliss Amateur Achievement Award to Robert D. Stephens, a certified public accountant in Rancho Cucamonga, California, “for his extensive contributions to the understanding of asteroids through collection and analysis of asteroid photometry,” repeated brightness measurements capable of revealing asteroids’ rotation rates.

At the Washington AAS meeting, more than 200 students presented poster papers based on their research and competed for the Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Student Awards. Nearly 100 professional astronomers fanned out across the exhibit hall to judge these presentations over several days, resulting in the awarding of seven Chambliss medals for exemplary research. Graduate-student winners were Sean M. Couch (University of Texas, Austin), Ian Crossfield (University of California, Los Angeles), Scott G. Engle (Villanova University), and Ryan Johnson (Dartmouth College). Undergraduate winners were Kyle Cook (Western Kentucky University), Ian Czekala (University of Virginia), and Breann Sitarski (Cornell University).

Division Prizes

The AAS’s five subject-specific divisions also award prizes. The Historical Astronomy Division’s LeRoy E. Doggett Prize is given to an individual whose long-term efforts and lifetime achievements have had a significant impact on the field of the history of astronomy. Dr. Michael J. Crowe (University of Notre Dame) was named the latest recipient in September, and he gave his prize lecture, “Seventeen Key Developments in the History of the Extraterrestrial Life Debate,” in Washington last week.

The AAS Division on Dynamical Astronomy (DDA) recognizes outstanding contributions to celestial mechanics, astrometry, geophysics, stellar systems, and galactic and extragalactic dynamics with its Dirk Brouwer Award. Dr. Tim de Zeeuw (European Southern Observatory) is the most recent honoree. The award committee wrote, “His mathematically elegant description of the density profiles and orbits [of triaxial stellar systems] invigorated the entire field and remains a cornerstone on which more recent understanding of elliptical galaxies is founded.” De Zeeuw will accept his award at the April 2010 meeting of the DDA, to be held in Brookline, Massachusetts.

The Solar Physics Division gives two major prizes. The 2010 George Ellery Hale Prize goes to Dr. Marcia Neugebauer (University of Arizona) “for her seminal contributions to the discovery of the solar wind and her extensive and ongoing contributions to solar-heliospheric physics.” Brian Welsch (University of California, Berkeley) receives the 2010 Karen Harvey Prize “for his role in the development of correlation techniques to measure velocities at the solar surface.” Neugebauer and Welsch will accept their prizes at the May 2010 joint meeting of the AAS and the Solar Physics Division in Miami, Florida.

The High Energy Astrophysics Division’s 2010 Bruno Rossi Prize will be the subject of a forthcoming release. The Division for Planetary Sciences gives five prizes; winners for 2010 will be chosen around May and will be announced shortly thereafter.

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.