Press Release

German Astronomical Society Announces 2020 Prizes

By SpaceRef Editor
September 22, 2020
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The German Astronomical Society is pleased to announce the awardees of its 2020 prizes. Four scientists with outstanding achievements in astronomy have been awarded during the Annual Meeting of the German Astronomical Society: Friedrich-Karl Thielemann receives the Schwarzschild Medal; Paola Pinilla the Ludwig Biermann Award, Til Birnstiel the Astrophysical Software Award and Anna-Christina Eilers the Doctoral Thesis Award.

The most prestigious prize in Germany in the field of astronomy and astrophysics, the Karl Schwarzschild Medal, is awarded to Friedrich-Karl Thielemann in honour of his research on the boundary of nuclear physics and astrophysics. His theoretical efforts, combined with comparison to experiments and observations, has had a significant impact on the understanding of stellar explosions. In his many outstanding theoretical contributions, he predicted nuclear cross sections and reaction rates of nuclei across the nuclear chart, including highly unstable ones. During his more than 40-year career, he achieved a full circle from nuclear input to studies of stellar evolution and explosions, the formation of heavy elements and the resulting chemical evolution of galaxies. Friedrich-Karl Thielemann excelled in providing the basis for the most extreme events in the universe from type Ia supernovae, novae and X-ray bursts, core-collapse supernovae and hypernovae to neutron star mergers. Thielemann’s dedication to the combination of mathematics and physics to unravel the origins of the elements in the universe has allowed him to hold professional positions around the globe. He currently holds an emeritus professorship in the field of cosmology and particle physics at the University of Basel, and also continues his research as a guest scientist at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt. Thielemann is member of the German Astronomical Society since 1978.

Paola Pinilla is being honoured with the 2020 Ludwig Biermann Award. With her physical concepts and numerical simulations, Paola Pinilla made significant contributions to the understanding of the evolution of small solid particles in gas disks around young stars. She predicted the importance of hydrodynamic “dust traps” that prevent millimetre-sized dust particles from falling towards the central star, thus making them available as building material for planets in the longer term. Her studies focus on the growth behaviour and dynamics of these particles in a turbulent medium. Paola Pinilla showed that the fundamental relationship between stellar mass and dust disk mass found by observers can only be explained if there are pressure bumps in these disks. This relationship has direct relevance to the mass of planets, as they form around stars. Paola Pinilla completed her PhD at the University of Heidelberg in 2013 and then became a post-doctoral researcher at Leiden Observatory. With a prestigious NASA Hubble fellowship, she continued her studies at Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona, and in 2018 she received the renowned Sofja Kovalevskaja Award from the Humboldt Foundation, with which she built up her own research group at the MPIA in Heidelberg.

Til Birnstiel is receiving the 2020 Astrophysical Software Award for the software he developed for modelling the temporal and spatial evolution of dust in protoplanetary disks. Young stars and the disks around them are built up from interstellar matter which initially contains only very small, at most micrometer-sized, dust particles. Til Birnstiel has written codes describing the mechanisms which lead to the growth of grains over several orders of magnitude in mass and to study how they are distributed and transported in the disk. His simulations of the dynamics and evolution of solid particles in disks have a vast impact on the understanding of planet formation. He and his team succeeded in developing the most widely used software codes in the field, which reflect not only the complex underlying physics but are also flexible enough to be applicable for the interpretation of observational data. Til Birnstiel did his doctorate in 2010 at the MPIA in Heidelberg. After being a postdoctoral researcher at the Excellence Cluster Universe at LMU Munich, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge and the MPIA in Heidelberg, he accepted the offer for a professorship for theoretical astrophysics at the LMU Munich, where he has been leading an ERC funded research group on planet formation since 2017.

The AG awards the 2020 Doctoral Thesis Prize to Anna-Christina Eilers from the MPIA in Heidelberg, now a NASA Hubble Fellow at the MIT, USA. Her thesis presents novel techniques to study the diffuse gas in the intergalactic medium to infer the emission properties of distant luminous quasars, and to probe and understand the physical conditions in the universe after the epoch of reionization. The scientific results of her thesis have been published in several first author papers and have been very well received by experts in the field. By studying quasar proximity zones, i.e. the immediate environment of the quasar where the diffuse gas is highly ionized by the intense quasar radiation, Anna-Christina Eilers discovered a new population of high redshift young quasars. In parallel she also studied the structure of the Milky Way, by applying machine learning techniques to astrometric and spectroscopic data resulting in the most precise measurement of the Milky Way’s circular velocity curve to date. Her outstanding research was also recognized with the Ernst Patzer Award, the Heraeus PhD Prize, the Otto Hahn Medal and the IAU PhD Prize. 

SpaceRef staff editor.